Saturday, May 13, 2017

In a sermon on 1 John 4, Luther addresses those pastors and people who wrongly imagine that they can preach and listen only to the Gospel apart from the rebuke and admonition of the Law:

YOU have often heard and are now hearing the complaint, which is universal in all the world, that when human beings hear the preaching of faith about the remission of sins, they embrace it, because it is a delightful preaching: God has sent His Son for you. But when it is said that you must adorn your faith to the praise of God, and sins are rebuked, no one wants to hear anything more.

In towns everywhere, people distinguish among preachers. “This one is a fine preacher, who talks about grace and mercy; and what is even finer, he does not scold anyone or frighten people.” That is the way people commonly talk and act. If he does rebuke [sins], they undertake to have him removed. Therefore, many [of these preachers] have returned to us.

When you are scolded as a usurer, adulterer, or whatever kind of swine you are, or [it is said] that a peasant, a townsman, or a nobleman is godless, no one will suffer that. “But if I am a usurer, adulterer, swindler, and [the preacher] does not scold me, ah, what a pious man he is!”

[Are you] really righteous because I [do not] rebuke your vices? Then let the devil be [your] preacher. If I see peasants, townsmen, noblemen and do not chastise them, then I will go to the devil along with you. For [God says in] Ezekiel 3 [:18]: “I will require [their] blood at your [hands],” and they themselves will go to the devil. You shall give an account of yourself. I will not be responsible for that in the hour of death or of judgment. Rather, I shall declare what is contrary to the commandment, and then if you do not obey, you do it at your own peril.

. . . Surely an upright [Christian] gladly hears an admonition to faith, not to be greedy or a usurer, and he amends himself. I would want a brother to admonish me when I go astray. But they refuse to tolerate anyone who rebukes them [even] in general. When I say that usurers belong to the devil, why do you cry out? It is because you yourself are guilty. If you want to know which dog has been struck, it is the one who cries out.8 Therefore, you are accusing yourself, if you grumble, and are defaming yourself. As Cicero says, when vices are rebuked in general terms, whoever becomes angry at it shows himself to be guilty.

Whoever cannot bear it when unbelief is rebuked along with the fruits of unbelief, he is most certainly the dog who has been struck. But this is the purpose for which they want to misuse the Gospel: that they may do whatever they want, and the preachers should confirm it and so be cast down to hell along with them, or else we should nullify the Gospel and the ministry [of the Word], etc., [saying,] “Oh, it is all the same; do whatever you want and you will be saved!”

The Word must be unbound [cf. 2 Tim. 2:9]. It must be freely preached. Human nature has been corrupted by unbelief, which brings its fruits along with it. Therefore, sins must be rebuked, as in the Ten Commandments, etc. If you don’t want to listen to God, then don’t!

Luther, Martin. “Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity, 1 John 4:16–21.” Luther’s Works: Sermons V. Ed. & trans. by Christopher Boyd Brown. Vol. 58. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, pp. 234–235.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Donne on Done

A Hymn to God the Father
John Donne

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eliot's Dimittis


While preparing for my sermon on Luke 2 for the First Sunday After Christmas dealing with Simeon's words to Mary and Joseph when Jesus was brought to the temple, I came across this poem giving Eliot's poetic perspective on Simeon's Song, the Nunc Dimittis. It might be revisited again on February 2, the Festival of the Presentation of our Lord when the "Roman hyacynths" might more likely be blooming.

A Song for Simeon
Thomas Stearns Eliot

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
Grant us thy peace.

I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.

Who shall remember my house,
where shall live my children’s children

When the time of sorrow is come ?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.

(And a sword shall pierce thy heart, Thine also).

I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Vergerius the Younger (16th Century)

Vergerius . . . was commissioned to go to the diet at Worms, where he made a speech on the unity and peace of the church, which he printed and circulated -- and in which he principally insisted on the arguments against a national council.

On his return to Rome, the pope intended to have rewarded his services with a cardinal's hat, but changed his purpose on hearing it insinuated that a leaning towards Lutheranism was perceptible in [Vergerius] from his long residence in Germany.

The pope, however, was not more offended than Vergerius was surprised at this charge, which he knew to be absolutely groundless; yet this circumstance, probably arising from personal malice or envy, proved ultimately the means of Vergerius's conversion.

With a view to repel the charge of heresy, he now sat down to write a book, the title of which was to be Adversus apostatas Germaniae, against the apostates of Germany; but as this led him to a strict investigation of the protestant doctrines, as found in the works of their ablest writers with a strong conviction that they were in the right.

He then immediately went to confer with his brother, John Baptist Vergerius, bishop of Pola, in Istra, who was exceedingly perplexed at his change of sentiment, but on his repeated entreaties, joined [his brother] in examining the disputed points, particularly the article of justification, and the result was, that both prelates soon preached to the people of Istria the doctrines of the reformation, and even dispersed the New Testament among them in the vulgar tongue [i.e. the people's common language - which in this case was probably Croatian].

The Inquisition, as well as the monks, soon became alarmed at this, and Vergerius was obliged to seek refuge in Mantua, under the protection of cardinal Herbules Gonzaga, who had been his intimate friend; but Gonzaga was after a short time obliged by remonstrances from Rome to withdraw his protection, and [Vergerius] finally went to Padua, and thence to the Grisons, where he preached the Gospel for several years, until invited by the duke of Wirtemberg to Tubingen, and there he passed the remainder of his days.

From The General Biographical Dictionary by Alexander Chalmers.

Vergerius the Elder (14th Century)

P. P. Vergerius the Elder (1370-1444) was a teacher at Florence, Bologna, and Padua. He was present at the Council of Constance, and later worked for the Emperor Sigismund. Soon after 1400, he wrote the first important Renaissance treatise on education for Ubertino, the son of Francesco Carrara, lord of Padua. Printed here, it represented a sort of humanist program. It does discuss the medieval trivium and quadrivium, along with the traditional disciplines of medicine, law and theology. But the stress is on the newer "liberal studies," of history, moral philosophy, rhetoric, and literature. In his de ingenuis moribus, he writes:
 
We call those studies liberal which are worthy of a free man; those studies by which we attain and practice virtue and wisdom; that education which calls forth, trains and develops those highest gifts of body and of mind which ennoble men, and which are rightly judged to rank next in dignity to virtue only. For to a vulgar temper gain and pleasure are the one aim of existence, to a lofty nature, moral worth and fame.

It is, then, of the highest importance that even from infancy this aim, this effort, should constantly be kept alive in growing minds. For I may affirm with fullest conviction that we shall not have attained wisdom in our later years unless in our earliest we have sincerely entered on its search. Nor may we for a moment admit, with the unthinking crowd, that those who give early promise fail in subsequent fulfillment. This may, partly from physical causes, happen in exceptional cases. But there is no doubt that nature has endowed some children with so keen, so ready an intelligence, that without serious effort they attain to a notable power of reasoning and conversing upon grave and lofty subjects, and by aid of right guidance and sound learning reach in manhood the highest distinction.

On the other hand, children of modest powers demand even more attention, that their natural defects may be supplied by art. But all alike must in those early years, Dum faciles animi iuvenum, dum mobilis aetas, i.e. whilst the mind is supple, be inured to the toil and effort of learning. Not that education, in the broad sense, is exclusively the concern of youth. Did not Cato think it honorable to learn Greek in later life? Did not Socrates, greatest of philosophers, compel his aged fingers to the lute

Our youth of to-day, it is to be feared, is backward to learn; studies arc accounted irksome. Boys hardly weaned begin to claim their own way, at a time when every art should be employed to bring them under control and attract them to grave studies. The Master must judge how far he can rely upon emulation, rewards, encouragement; bow far be must have recourse to sterner measures.

Too much leniency is objectionable; so also is too great severity, for we must avoid all that terrifies a boy. In certain temperaments-those in which a dark complexion denotes a quiet but strong personality-restraint must be cautiously applied. Boys of this type are mostly highly gifted and can bear a gentle hand. Not seldom it happens that a finely tempered nature is thwarted by circumstances, such as poverty at home, which compels a promising youth to forsake learning for trade: though, on the other hand, poverty is less dangerous to lofty instincts than great wealth. Or again, parents encourage their sons to follow a career traditional in their family, which may divert them from liberal studies: and the customary pursuits of the city in which we dwell exercise a decided influence on our choice.

So that we may say that a perfectly unbiased decision in these matters is seldom possible, except to certain select natures, who by favor of the gods, as the poets have it, are unconsciously brought to choose the right path in life. The myth of Hercules, who, in the solitude of his wanderings, learned to accept the strenuous life and to reject the way of self-indulgence, and so attain the highest, is the significant setting of this profound truth. For us it is the best that can befall, that either the circumstances of our life, or the guidance and exhortations of those in charge of us, should mould our natures whilst they are still plastic.