“Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God.” ~ Luther on Galatians 1:3

VERSE 3. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our   Lord Jesus Christ.  

The terms of grace and peace are common terms with Paul and are now pretty well understood. But since we are explaining this epistle, you will not mind if we repeat what we have so often explained elsewhere. The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.

The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God.

The world brands this a pernicious doctrine. The world advances free will, the rational and natural approach of good works, as the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. But it is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world. Experience proves this. Various holy orders have been launched for the purpose of securing peace of conscience through religious exercises, but they proved failures because such devices only increase doubt and despair. We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.

The Apostle does not wish the Galatians grace and peace from the emperor, or from kings, or from governors, but from God the Father. He wishes them heavenly peace, the kind of which Jesus spoke when He said, “Peace I leave unto you: my peace I give unto you.” Worldly peace provides quiet enjoyment of life and possessions. But in affliction, particularly in the hour of death, the grace and peace of the world will not deliver us. However, the grace and peace of God will. They make a person strong and courageous to bear and to overcome all difficulties, even death itself, because we have the victory of Christ’s death and the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.

The above quote is drawn from a classic of Reformation literature – Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians. This is his simple but clear exposition of v.3 of the first chapter. And you will see in these brief paragraphs the basic gospel recovered by the Reformers – justification by grace alone in Christ alone by faith alone.

By all means read on in this classic, especially if you never have. You will be treated to a timeless treasure of gospel truth – still worth treasuring, defending, and spreading.

The digital edition of this edition is available here and on Kindle (free!). And, of course, in print.

Published in: on October 25, 2020 at 9:20 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Luther’s Struggle to Find the Gospel of God (3)

HereIStand-RBaintonThe final part of our little Reformation series on Martin Luther’s struggle to find the gospel of God takes us to that part of his life when he assumed the chair of Bible at the University of Wittenberg and began preaching and teaching the Word of God to his fellow Roman Catholic monks. It was during this period (1513-1517) and through these labors (Scripture alone!) that God led Luther to see the light of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone and through faith alone.

For our description of this we quote once more from Roland Bainton’s classic biography of Luther, Here I Stand. And then we will hear from Luther himself as he describes his conversion by and to the true gospel of God.

Luther set himself to learn and expound the Scriptures. On August 1, 1513, he commenced his lectures on the book of Psalms. In the fall of 1515 he was lecturing on St.Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The Epistle to the Galatians was treated throughout 1516-17. These studies proved to be for Luther the Damascus road. The third great religious crisis which resolved his turmoil was as the still small voice compared to the earthquake of the first upheaval in the thunderstorm at Stotternheim and the fire of the second tremor which consumed him at the saying of his first mass. No ‘coup de foudre’, no heavenly apparition, no religious ceremony, precipitated the third crisis. The place was no lonely road in a blinding storm, nor even the holy altar but simply the study in the tower of the Augustinian monastery. The solution to Luther’s problems came in the midst of the performance of the daily task (p.61-62).

And then came the intense struggle – and solution – in his studies on Romans and Galatians and the Biblical expressions on justification. Here is how Luther himself spoke of his conversion:

I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven….

If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face (Bainton, p.65).

About this gospel change in Luther Bainton says, “Luther had come into a new view of Christ and a new view of God. He had come to love the suffering Redeemer and the God unveiled on Calvary” (p.65).

Indeed he had. The question we face on this Reformation Day 2013 is, Have we also by faith embraced this gracious and merciful God of the Scriptures? Do we see Him in Christ as Just and the Justifier of those who trust in Him? May God continue to shine the light of this fundamental truth on our own hearts, so that we also shout Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory!

Luther’s Struggle to Find the Gospel of God (2)

HereIStand-RBaintonAs we take a brief look at Luther’s struggle to find the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ during this Reformation remembrance week, we move on from Luther’s trip to Rome (yesterday’s post) to his time at Wittenberg, where he was transferred (from Erfurt) in 1511. Keep in mind that at this point Luther is still a staunch Roman Catholic monk, loyal to the church and striving to use all her means to soothe his soul and find peace with God. In Wittenberg he lived in an Augustinian cloister and had begun to teach at the University, which Roland Bainton describes as “the darling of the elector,  Frederick the Wise”.

Now let’s return to the narrative of Bainton in Here I Stand as he describes Luther’s continued struggle:

Luther’s difficulties persisted. A precise delineation of their course eludes us. His tremors cannot be said to have mounted in unbroken crescendo to a single crisis. Rather he passed through a series of crises to a relative stability. The stages defy localization as to time, place, or logical sequence. Yet this is clear. Luther probed every resource of contemporary Catholicism for assuaging the anguish of a spirit alienated from God. He tried the way of good works and discovered that he could never do enough to save himself. He endeavored to avail himself of the merits of the saints and ended with a doubt, not a very serious or persistent doubt for the moment, but sufficient to destroy his assurance.

He sought at the same time to explore other ways, and Catholicism had much more to offer. Salvation was never made to rest solely nor even primarily on human achievement. The whole sacramental system of the Church was designed to mediate to man God’s help and favor. Particularly the sacrament of penance afforded solace, not to saints but to sinners. This only required of them, that they should confess all their wrongdoing and seek absolution. Luther endeavored unremittingly to avail himself of this signal mercy. Without confession, he testified, the Devil would have devoured him long ago. He confessed frequently, often daily, and for as long as six hours on a single occasion. Every sin in order to be absolved was to be confessed. Therefore the soul must be searched and the memory ransacked and the motives probed. As an aid the penitent ran through the seven deadly sins and the Ten Commandments. Luther would repeat a confession and, to be sure of including everything, would review his entire life until the confessor grew weary and exclaimed, ‘Man, God is not angry with you. You are angry with God. Don’t you know that God commands you to hope?’

And yet Luther still had no peace – why?

There is, according to Luther, something more drastically wrong with man than any particular list of offenses which can be enumerated, confessed, and forgiven. The very nature of man is corrupt. The penitential system fails because it is directed to particular lapses. Luther had come to perceive that the entire man is in need of forgiveness. In the course of this quest he had wrought himself into a state of emotional disturbance passing the bounds of objectivity….

In consequence the most frightful insecurities beset him. Panic invaded his spirit. The conscience became so disquieted as to start and tremble at the stirring of a wind-blown leaf. The horror of nightmare gripped the soul, the dread of one waking in the dusk to look into the eyes of him who has come to take his life. The heavenly champions all withdrew; the fiend beckoned with leering summons to the impotent soul. These were the torments which Luther repeatedly testified were far worse than any physical ailment that he had ever endured (pp.54-56).

Can we understand and even appreciate this soul struggle of this man of God? Can we see how God was leading him – painstakingly – to the true gospel of forgiveness in His Son? Of that final step we will learn tomorrow, D.V.