Friday, February 19, 2010

Luther: Protestants Have Contempt of the Gospel

Here's another obscure Luther quote used by a defender of Rome:
Worse still than avarice, whoring and immorality, which had the upper hand everywhere nowadays, was the general contempt of the gospel. (in Janssen, ibid., vol. 16, from L. Enders, Dr. Martin Luther's Correspondence, Frankfurt, 1862, vol. 4, 6. From the year 1532) [link].
The defender of Rome in question uses this quote in two different ways. First, it is used as an example of "The Agony of Luther" over "the State of Early Protestantism." Second, that during the Reformation "Catholics were no more ignorant or impious or wicked than, for example, Lutherans, according to the descriptions of Luther himself."

The quote is said to come from Johannes Janssen's History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages Volume 16, page 16. There Janssen states,
But worse still than avarice, whoring, and immorality, which had the upper hand everywhere nowadays,' wrote Luther in 1532, 'was the general contempt of the Gospel .' 'Avarice, whoring, and immorality are great and terrible sins, and our Lord God punishes them with famine and pestilence; but all the same the land and the people are left standing. But this sin of contempt of the Gospel is not a human but a devilish sin, so fearful is it to despise, laugh at and mock the great mercy of the fatherly visitation of God.' (Collected Works, Frankfort edition, iv.6] [link]
Note that the cyber-apologist places this quote in Dr. Martin Luther's Correspondence, By this, it appears the quote is from a letter. Janssen though only states it was from Luther's Collected Works. Even though this set does include 18 volumes of Luther's letters, the quote in question is not from a letter.

The quote can be found in Erl iv, p.6 (here is the complete Erl. 3-4). The text being cited is from Luther's Housepostil. It's a 1532 sermon on Matthew 21:1-9 (First Sunday in Advent, First Sermon). The text reads:

Technically, Luther did not write this text. These printed words are from the notes of Georg Rörer who heard and took notes on Luther's sermon. The current English edition of Luther's Works does not include the House Postil (nor are there plans to include it as far as I know). However, an English translation of Rörer's version is available via a multi-volume Baker Books edition (1996) edited by Eugene F. A. Klug. This version is included in The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000). Using this set, this sermon can be found in English in The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Volume 5 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000) pp. 17-24.

In the first part of the sermon, Luther explains those who are Christians are not so because of birth, but because they were "baptized and washed clean with Christ's blood" (p.18). It is by belief in Christ that one is given eternal life (p.19). In the second part of the sermon, Luther discusses Christ's weeping over Jerusalem because of their rejection of Him and His Gospel. As a correlation to his day, Luther states:

The gospel is presently being preached, too, in copious measure for all to hear what sort of King Christ is and how he is to be perceived. But townspeople, peasants and nobility trample their pastors and preachers under foot; the high and mighty of this world persecute the gospel. What will come out of this? Christ seeks to be gracious to them, brings the market to their door, and they strike him dead. What can be more irrational than to bring a man silver and gold, right to his house, and say to him that this is all his, if he will only put out his hand and receive it, but he rebuffs and strikes dead the one who seeks to deliver it right into his lap? Anyone witnessing this would say that the man is crazy, and he would be right. Well, now, here it is not a bag of gold but another kind of treasure announcing that when it comes time for you to die you have Christ's help and assurance that you will have eternal life, and then, irrationally, in spite of his offering you such a treasure, you push him away and scorn him! That is the reason why he here weeps.
We need to consider this well. This King's entry and coming overflow with mercy and with very great comfort. But when he is despised, in fact persecuted and rejected in unbelief, he then sheds tears. I have often said that a plague must come upon Germany. Our rulers and leaders are guilty before God of so great a folly that a terrible bloodbath is bound to come, so that nobody will know where to run. And then the King will say to you, I came to your house, offered you everlasting life, but you turned away, swilled yourself full, did as you pleased, and, to top it all off, persecuted my gospel. This calamity will be added to your judgment (p.20).

Luther states, "That's the way things went at Jerusalem." Indeed, judgment did come upon Jerusalem in AD 70. Then Luther makes a plea to those who think they have time to call on the Lord at some later time:
Therefore, my dear children, young and old, big and small, don't ever let yourselves come to such a pass that you think and say, The gospel is something I can have any day, something I eventually will want to learn. Seize the opportunity now, while the Lord is near, as the prophet says (Isa. 55:6), "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." If we fail to see that he closes the door, there is no way to get in; for he will let us cry and knock in vain, as he did the foolish virgins who came after the door was closed, crying, "Lord, Lord, open to us." Thereupon he answered, `Verily, I say unto you, I know you not" (Matt. 25:11-12). So with us, too, if we fail to watch (p.21).
Luther also points out that the Gospel was now being preached with a great clarity, making people even more guilty of rejecting it: "But now that this is all clearly and thoroughly preached, people don't know how to scorn it enough!"(p.21). Then comes the immediate context of the obscure quote:
For this reason I urge you young folks to be on guard; perchance you will see and experience the impending doom upon Germany. A storm will overtake Germany and not skip by. God could not unleash it upon Jerusalem as long as so many pious people, David and the prophets, lived there and lay buried there, yes, even God himself lived there. Jerusalem was his own dear fortress and dwelling place of which he himself said, "Here do I dwell, my heaven is here." Nevertheless, because of her sin, because she did not know the time of her visitation, God punished Jerusalem terribly and laid her waste. That is why I am not as much disturbed by people's greed, harlotry, fornication, so prevalent now everywhere, as I am by the despising of the gospel. Avarice, harlotry, and unchastity are indeed great terrible sins, sins which the Lord God punishes severely with plague and famine, though land and people still survive. But this sin is not adultery or harlotry; it is not even of human origin but of the devil, causing God's fatherly visitation of grace to be so terribly despised laughed to scorn, and mocked. Such sin, you may be sure, prompts God's severest judgment to WIPE IT CLEAN! (pp.21-22).

Once again, the context doesn't bear out the assertions of Rome's apologists. Luther wasn't agonizing over early Protestantism, he was preaching judgment on an unrepentant Germany. Of course the large mass of people reject and ridicule the Gospel. They have done so in each generation. Recall, Paul says that unbelievers consider the Gospel to be nothing more than foolishness. Nor is Luther describing the ignorant, impious or wicked Lutherans. He's describing the overall population of unrepentant Germany.

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

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