Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Quotable Luther #3- 486 Year-Old Advice on "Doing" Apologetics


...If you want to tell others about the Gospel in a Christian way, you must consider the persons with whom you are speaking. For you will meet two kinds. There are some who are hardened and will not hear, but with their lies deceive and poison others. To this class belong the pope, Eck, Emser, and some of our bishops, priests and monks. To these men you are not to tell anything about the Gospel at all, but do as Christ says in Matthew 7:6, “Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and the dogs turn and tear you.”

Let them remain dogs and swine; your efforts are wasted in any case. Solomon also says, “Where there is none who listens, pour not out words.” (Ecclus. 32:6 [Vulgate]) But when you see that these liars instill their lies and poison into other people, then you are to oppose them boldly and fight against them, just as Paul opposed Elymas with hard and sharp words, ( Acts 13:10 f.) and as Christ calls the Pharisees a generation of vipers. ( Matthew 23:33) This you are to do not for their sake, for they will not listen to you, but for the sake of those whom they are poisoning. For so St. Paul commands Titus to rebuke sharply such vain talkers and deceivers of souls. (Titus 1:10,13)

But there are others who have so far heard only this and might be willing to learn if some one taught them, or who are so weak that they cannot readily understand it. These you must not bully and startle, but instruct them in a kindly and gentle manner, point out to them the evidence and the proof, and if they cannot immediately grasp it, have patience with them for a time. St. Paul speaks of this in Romans 14:1; 15:1, “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye”; and St. Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with gentleness and fear.” Here you see that we are to give instruction in our faith with gentleness and in the fear of God to any man who desires or needs it.

If, in dealing with such people, you want to display your great learning, pounce upon them with the bare assertion that their way of praying, fasting and celebrating mass is wrong, and insist upon eating meat, eggs and other things they regard as forbidden on the fast-day, and with it all do not with gentleness and fear explain to them the why and wherefore, these simple souls cannot help thinking that you are a proud, impudent and wicked man, as in truth you are. They will get the impression that men are not to pray nor to do good, that the mass is nothing, and so on. You have led them into this error and put this stumbling block in their way, and you will be held accountable for it. That is why they think and speak ill of the holy Gospel and imagine that you have been taught monstrous things. What does it profit you thus to give offense to your neighbor and to lay obstacles in the way of the Gospel? You have cooled your inconsiderate ardor, and men say, “Well, I will keep my old faith,” and shut their hearts against the genuine truth.

But if you would tell them your reasons with fear and gentleness, as St. Peter teaches you, (1 Peter 3:16) and say, “ My dear man, fasting, the eating of eggs, meat and fish are matters of such a nature that salvation does not depend on them; both the doing of these things and the leaving of them undone may be either right or wrong according to circumstances; faith alone saves,” and whatever else ought to be said in such a case, as, for example, that the mass would be a good thing if it were properly celebrated, etc.: this method would draw them to you, they would listen and at last learn what you know. But now that you are so insolent, pride yourself on your superior knowledge, act like the Pharisee in the Gospel, ( Luke 18:11, John 7:49) and base your pride on the fact that they do not know what you know, you fall under the judgment of St. Paul in Romans 14:15, Jam non secundum caritatem ambulas, and you despise your neighbor whom you ought to serve with meekness and fear. Consider an analogous case. If an enemy had tied a rope about your brother’s neck so that he was in danger of his life, and you were so foolish as to rage against the rope and the enemy, and ran up and with all your energy pulled the rope toward you or lunged at it with a knife, you would most likely strangle your brother or stab him, and do more harm than the rope and the enemy had done. If you really want to help your brother, this is what you must do: the enemy you may punish or beat as hard as he deserves, but the rope you must handle gently and with fear until you get it away from your brother’s neck, lest you strangle him.

In the same way you may be harsh in dealing with the liars, the hardened tyrants, and be bold to do things contrary to their teachings and their works, for they are unwilling to listen to you. But the simple people, whom they have bound with the ropes of their teachings and whose lives are endangered, you must treat quite differently. You must with fear and gentleness undo the teachings of men, tell your reasons, and in this way gradually set them free. This is what St. Paul did when, in defiance of all the Jews, ( Galatians 2:3) he would not have Titus circumcised, and yet circumcised Timothy. ( Acts 16:3) You must treat dogs and swine differently from men, and wolves and lions differently from the weak sheep. With the wolves you cannot be too severe, with the weak sheep you cannot be too gentle. Living as we do among the papists, we must act just as if we lived among the heathen. Indeed, they are sevenfold heathen, and therefore, as St. Peter teaches, we are to have our conversation honest among the Gentiles, that they may not be able to speak any evil of us truthfully, though they would like to do so. ( 1 Peter 2:12) It gives them great pleasure to hear that you make a boast of this teaching and give offense to weak hearts; because it gives them an opportunity to decry the whole of the teaching as one that gives offense and does harm, and they have no other way of resisting it, but must acknowledge that it is true.

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