Let Hardship Grow Us – Martin Luther | Christian History Insititute

We have referenced these “Refo Thursday” posts from the Christian History Institute before here, and this is another one (dated March 16, 2017)as we consider the life and work of Martin Luther during this year of marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

 

This post focuses on a more personal and practical side to Luther’s life – and that of every believer: suffering and affliction. Below are some thoughts on this from Andrew Garnett and from Luther himself. Find the full post at the link below.

On November 3, 1515, Martin Luther began to lecture on Romans at the University of Wittenberg. Luther had been a professor at the university for just over three years, but the posting of his famous Ninety-five Theses was still two years in the future. After several weeks of lecturing, he reached Romans 5:3-4: “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” (NRSV).

As he prepared his lecture notes, Luther could see the positive impact of hardship which Paul had described; Luther saw how suffering could develop virtues in an individual’s life. However, Luther realized that the converse was also true: hardship could also have a corrupting effect on an individual. Perhaps he was thinking of his own life as an Augustinian friar. Luther was very unhappy while living the cloistered life of a friar, but his hardship did not lead to spiritual growth; on the contrary, Luther found that the more he fasted and prayed, the more miserable he became.

Source: Blog: Let Hardship Grow Us | Christian History Insititute

In connection with this post, the CHI also featured a video providing a tour of the Wartburg Castle where Luther was hid following the Diet of Worms in 1521.

And, on this PRC archives day, we may also add this cover image of Luther on an early issue of the Beacon Lights. Unfortunately, there were no articles on him or the Reformation in that issue, other than the words to his famous hymn (see cover below). But they made up for this in future issues. 🙂

BL--RWH-Luther_0001

Confidence in God and Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”

Everything that could go wrong did. The plague had come to his city. Their infant daughter died within a few short months of her birth. He had felt the pain of betrayal. He was still reeling from the throes of a war, with both sides feeling as if he had somehow let them down. He had started a movement that was nearly drowning him. This was one of the most difficult years of his life. The year was 1527, and Martin Luther wondered if he could survive it.

Time-for-confidence-nichols-2016-2So begins Stephen J. Nichols in the second chapter of his new book,  A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society (Reformation Trust, 2016). The title of this second chapter is “Confidence in God.”

In that light, Nichols asks and answers the question, What was Luther’s response to these dark days he was experiencing? Quite simply, he trusted in God! How did he demonstrate this trust? By writing one of the great hymns of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

As Nichols goes on to say,

Luther knew the reality of human limitations. He was nearly omnicompetent, a driven individual. He was a larger-than-life personality. Yet, he knew his own limitations. In 1527, as stormy events surrounded him, he knew he needed to look beyond himself, past his own strength and ability. He knew that God alone is our ‘mighty fortress,’ our ‘bulwark never failing.’ He knew how futile it would be to trust in our own strength.

To which the author adds this wonderful summary of Luther’s theology tucked away in that grand hymn:

The point of this entire book is captured in this one hymn from Martin Luther. Luther based the hymn on Psalm 46, which thunders, ‘The God of Jacob is our fortress.’ That phrase is not abstract; it is richly textured. This is the God of Jacob. We know of the foibles of Jacob. We also know of God’s tender and never-ending care of Jacob. This is the God who sees, hears, knows and cares. This is not a far-off, aloof God. This God who cared for Jacob is our fortress. This phrase from Psalm 46 prompted Luther to think of all the benefits that belong to us.

From there, Nichols takes each line from that majestic song (“Who is on our side? “The Man of God’s own choosing.” What abides? God’s Word abideth still.” And the last line; “His kingdom is forever.”), ending with these thoughts:

That is the resounding truth that anchored Luther in the storms of 1527. It is God. It is His Son. It is His Word. It is His Spirit. It is His kingdom. This is what matters [pp.21-23].

The question for us is, Does it matter for us too, in these days? And will it matter in those times of difficulty and persecution that are sure to come? Ponder the truths of Psalm 46 and have confidence in God, as Luther did. The God of Jacob is with us and for us.

You Must Read (John Bunyan) -F. Cook

YouMustReadCoverWith Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658 and Charles II established on the throne in 1660, such preaching quickly aroused the antagonism of local magistrates and clerics alike. In November 1660 [John] Bunyan was arrested, brought to trial and imprisoned for lay preaching and for refusing to worship at a local parish church. From the age of thirty-two until he was forty-four, he languished in Bedford Jail, rat-infested, crowded, stinking, and cold, having to leave his wife and his four small children without support.

…Yet these very circumstances have given us today the priceless heritage of Bunyan’s writings, enriching and encouraging generations of the Lord’s people. Yet it was not easy….

But in spite of his suffering John Bunyan gives us a key to his endurance – a most vital key for our day:

I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them.

On its own this would seem a somewhat negative concept, but Bunyan hastily adds his secret of endurance, for instead of these human comforts he was learning ‘to live upon God that is invisible.’ And the reward was great, for as Bunyan discovered through his twelve long years of imprisonment,

He [God] can make those things that in themselves are most fearful and terrible to behold, the most pleasant, delightful and desirable things. He can make a gaol more beautiful than a palace… He can so sweeten our sufferings with the honey of his word… and [make it] so easy by the spreading of his feathers over us that we will not be able to say that in all the world a more comfortable position can be found.

Taken from You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives (Banner of Truth, 2015), Chapter 2, “The Works of John Bunyan” by Faith Cook, pp.11-12.

Note to Self: Stop Complaining

Start by reading and meditating on Phil.2:14: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.”

Dear Self,

…You complain because you misunderstand (or just miss altogether) the grace you have received and the purposes of God in your life. You misunderstand the grace you have received by not recognizing it and receiving it with gratitude. Life, breath, and all of God’s provisions for your life are acts of his kindness and are truly wonderful, and yet they all seem to disappear when the small inconveniences of life appear.

In most of your complaining you miss the good purposes of God for your life – purposes he has made clear. ‘God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God’ (Rom.8:28 NASB). This truth should remain a constant meditation, particularly in a world filled with frustration, frailty, and failure. Though we are not always aware of the particular ways in which God causes all things to work out for our good, we have this promise, and it should be enough to challenge and conquer our complaining spirit.

…Perhaps the lesson is that you haven’t driven the gospel deep enough into your heart and mind. Otherwise it would bear fruit precisely where you need it. Are you complaining today? Consider the grace of God in all of life, and in the gospel particularly. Be assured of his purpose in all things inconvenient and tragic, and you will find the cure for complaining.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.35 “Stop Complaining” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 109-110.

You might also benefit from reading (or re-reading) this “note to self” we posted previously, about giving thanks.

Justin Martyr – Apology (4)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers and church fathers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing opposition and persecution – and facing them biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In this installment we continue our posts from some sections from his first apology. For links to his writings, visit this site.

This post is taken from chapters seven and eight  of Justin’s first apology (and follow from my previous post where we quoted chapters five and six):

CHAPTER VII — EACH CHRISTIAN MUST BE TRIED BY HIS OWN LIFE.

But some one will say, Some have ere now been arrested and convicted as evil-doers. For you condemn many, many a time, after inquiring into the life of each of the accused severally, but not on account of those of whom we have been speaking. And this we acknowledge, that as among the Greeks those who teach such theories as please themselves are all called by the one name “Philosopher,” though their doctrines be diverse, so also among the Barbarians this name on which accusations are accumulated is the common property of those who are and those who seem wise. For all are called Christians.

Wherefore we demand that the deeds of all those who are accused to you be judged, in order that each one who is convicted may be punished as an evil-doer, and not as a Christian; and if it is clear that any one is blameless, that he may be acquitted, since by the mere fact of his being a Christian he does no wrong. For we will not require that you punish our accusers; they being sufficiently punished by their present wickedness and ignorance of what is right.

CHAPTER VIII — CHRISTIANS CONFESS THEIR FAITH IN GOD.

And reckon ye that it is for your sakes we have been saying these things; for it is in our power, when we are examined, to deny that we are Christians; but we would not live by telling a lie. For, impelled by the desire of the eternal and pure life, we seek the abode that is with God, the Father and Creator of all, and hasten to confess our faith, persuaded and convinced as we are that they who have proved to God by their works that they followed Him, and loved to abide with Him where there is no sin to cause disturbance, can obtain these things. This, then, to speak shortly, is what we expect and have learned from Christ, and teach.

And Plato, in like manner, used to say that Rhadamanthus and Minos would punish the wicked who came before them; and we say that the same thing will be done, but at the hand of Christ, and upon the wicked in the same bodies united again to their spirits which are now to undergo everlasting punishment; and not only, as Plato said, for a period of a thousand years. And if any one say that this is incredible or impossible, this error of ours is one which concerns ourselves only, and no other person, so long as you cannot convict us of doing any harm.

The Christian and Suffering – R.C. Sproul

TT-Aug-2016Last night in our home church (Faith PRC) our Seminary intern, Justin Smidstra, brought a comforting message to us from James 1:2-4 about our calling to rejoice in the midst of all the trials God gives us in this life.

That tied in nicely to the article I read by Dr. R.C. Sproul Sunday morning. Writing in his usual column “Right Now Counts Forever,” Sproul explained the difference between and the connection between “bearing and enduring” as found in I 1 Cor.13:7.

For our profit today as we start a new work week and begin to face the manifold trials God places on our path, I quote a section from that article. May it give us proper perspective and enable us by God’s abounding grace to “count it all joy” when we fall into these trials.

Pain and suffering tend to eat away not only at our love but also at our faith, because we begin to wonder if God is loving and if He is even real. We ask how in the world He can let this relentless pain grip our lives. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep our attention on the Word of God. We are told not to be surprised when suffering comes our way. The New Testament doesn’t say that suffering might occur—it says it’s a certainty. Remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 when he talks about what he bore for the sake of the gospel: beatings, stonings, being left for dead, shipwrecks, days and nights at sea, fighting with wild beasts, and constantly being the target of human hostility. Why was he willing to bear those things? Because he understood the divine purpose for suffering and the divine promise not only of relief from suffering, but of the redemption of the suffering itself. In this interim between Christ’s resurrection and return, Christians are called to participate in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24). By bearing and enduring pain, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus and mirror and reflect Him to onlookers. Pain and suffering are opportunities to show the love that God has shed abroad in our hearts.

Source: Bearing and Enduring by R.C. Sproul

Justin Martyr – Apology (2)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers and church fathers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing persecution – and facing it biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In the weeks and months ahead we plan to post some sections from his apologies (first and second). For links to his writings, visit this site.

This is taken from chapter four of Justin’s first apology:

CHAPTER IV — CHRISTIANS UNJUSTLY CONDEMNED FOR THEIR MERE NAME.

By the mere application of a name, nothing is decided, either good or evil, apart from the actions implied in the name; and indeed, so far at least as one may judge from the name we are accused of, we are most excellent people. But as we do not think it just to beg to be acquitted on account of the name, if we be convicted as evildoers, so, on the other hand, if we be found to have committed no offence, either in the matter of thus naming ourselves, or of our conduct as citizens, it is your part very earnestly to guard against incurring just punishment, by unjustly punishing those who are not convicted. For from a name neither praise nor punishment could reasonably spring, unless something excellent or base in action be proved.

And those among yourselves who are accused you do not punish before they are convicted; but in our case you receive the name as proof against us, and this although, so far as the name goes, you ought rather to punish our accusers. For we are accused of being Christians, and to hate what is excellent (Chrestian) is unjust.

Again, if any of the accused deny the name, and say that he is not a Christian, you acquit him, as having no evidence against him as a wrong-doer; but if any one acknowledge that he is a Christian, you punish him on account of this acknowledgment. Justice requires that you inquire into the life both of him who confesses and of him who denies, that by his deeds it may be apparent what kind of man each is.

For as some who have been taught by the Master, Christ, not to deny Him, give encouragement to others when they are put to the question, so in all probability do those who lead wicked lives give occasion to those who, without consideration, take upon them to accuse all the Christians of impiety and wickedness.

And this also is not right. For of philosophy, too, some assume the name and the garb who do nothing worthy of their profession; and you are well aware, that those of the ancients whose opinions and teachings were quite diverse, are yet all called by the one name of philosophers. And of these some taught atheism; and the poets who have flourished among you raise a laugh out of the uncleanness of Jupiter with his own children. And those who now adopt such instruction are not restrained by you; but, on the contrary, you bestow prizes and honours upon those who euphoniously insult the gods.

Justin Martyr – Apology (1)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing persecution – and facing it biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In the weeks and months ahead we plan to post some sections from his apologies (first and second). For links to his writings, visit this site.

This is taken from chapter three of Justin’s first apology:

CHAPTER III — CLAIM OF JUDICIAL INVESTIGATION.

But lest any one think that this is an unreasonable and reckless utterance, we demand that the charges against the Christians be investigated, and that, if these be substantiated, they be punished as they deserve; [or rather, indeed, we ourselves will punish them.] But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgment, but by passion. And every sober-minded person will declare this to be the only fair and equitable adjustment, namely, that the subjects render an unexceptional account of their own life and doctrine; and that, on the other hand, the rulers should give their decision in obedience, not to violence and tyranny, but to piety and philosophy. For thus would both rulers and ruled reap benefit. For even one of the ancients somewhere said, “Unless both rulers and ruled philosophize, it is impossible to make states blessed.” It is our task, therefore, to afford to all an opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest, on account of those who are accustomed to be ignorant of our affairs, we should incur the penalty due to them for mental blindness; and it is your business, when you hear us, to be found, as reason demands, good judges. For if, when ye have learned the truth, you do not what is just, you will be before God without excuse.

When I Feel Stuck (or Handling “Wet Wednesdays”) – Neil Stewart

TT-April-2016This fine article from the April 2016 Tabletalk on how to deal with seasons of discouragement and depression in our lives is worth your reading, in my estimation. And worth passing on to a friend or family member who also struggles with these very real things in his/her Christian life.

I give you a portion of it here; you will find the rest at the Ligonier link below.

Stewart begins by describing the condition we experience:

The soul knows its own wet Wednesday afternoons. All prodigals, we walk home through a world blighted by Adam’s choice. Fallenness dampens every joy. Burdens heavy with guilt, shame, and regret bite into our shoulders. Fears within and troubles without loom black like thunder. We yearn to hear more of the running footsteps of a welcoming father, his strong arms wrapped around, his tears warm and salty on our cheeks. But disappointed longings follow us as constant companions. Our best moments are always interrupted, and like the weekend for the midweek schoolboy, heaven can feel far enough away to seem forever away.

The worst of these times go unexplained. No particular sin, failure, or mistake stands out as the culprit. We feel “blah” and don’t know why (Ps. 42:5). In this far place, we fall easy prey to a dark theology built upon feelings. A depressing inevitability follows: We don’t feel God speaking, so we stop reading our Bibles. We don’t sense God listening, so we stop saying our prayers. Inertia dampens everything; we go nowhere. What to do?

Indeed, what to do?! Here is part of his answer:

First, remember: you are not alone. All God’s children have trodden these paths before. How often the psalmists felt abandoned, yet they still reached for God in song. David cried out: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1). The Sons of Korah asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:1). These saints were coming before the Lord and asking how long God would hide His face from them. There is a lesson here: good men often feel worse than they are. These men begin in a moment of dark despair, but they do not end there. As the psalmists agonize, their hearts leak Scripture. In the darkness, back beneath the sense of dereliction, God is still there, giving them words, helping them Godward, inspiring the Bible. Yahweh is always nearer to us than we feel.

Yes, that “first” is truly first! “Hope thou in God!” Psalm 42:5

Source: When I Feel Stuck by Neil Stewart

Prayers of the Reformers (14)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this second Lord’s Day in April we post another prayer from the book Prayers of the Reformers (compiled by Clyde Manschreck; Muhlenberg Press, 1958).

This prayer is taken from the section “Prayers in Time of Affliction and Suffering” and, as you will see, is fitting for us as we gather with God’s people in worship today.

The editor gives it the German title “Wenn wir in hochsten Nothen sein,” (from Paul Eber, 1566 based on a text from Joachim Camerarius, 1546) while the prayer itself is in English arranged in poem form thus:

When in the hour of utmost need
We know not where to look for aid,
When days and nights of anxious thought
Nor help nor counsel yet have brought.

Then this our comfort is alone,
That we may meet before Thy throne,
And cry, O faithful God, to Thee
For rescue from our misery.

To Thee may raise our hearts and eyes,
Repenting sore with bitter sighs,
And seek Thy pardon for our sin
And respite from our griefs within.

For Thou hast promised graciously
To hear all those who cry to Thee
Thro’ Him whose name alone is great,
Our Savior and our advocate.

And thus we come, O God, today
And all our woes before Thee lay;
For sorely tried, cast down, we stand,
Perplexed by fears on every hand.

O hide not for our sins Thy face,
Absolve us through Thy boundless grace,
Be with us in our anguish still,
Free us at last from every ill.

That so with all our hearts we may
Once more our glad thanksgivings pay,
And walk obedient to Thy Word,
And now and ever praise the Lord.

An Internet search reveals that this is a hymn set to music under the title “When in the Hour of Utmost Need, ” arranged by Louis Burgeois (c.1510-1559), as part of the Genevan tunes.