Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gerhard on the Three Uses of the Law, sort of

An instructive observation from Gerhard on the three uses of the Law, but it's not quite what you think. In the very next paragraphs following the quote below Gerhard does teach the three uses of the Law according to the Formula of Concord, but here he is specifically discussing the three uses of teaching that it is impossible for us to fulfill the Law. From On the Law (forthcoming from CPH), § 202:

Now, the purpose of teaching that it is impossible to fulfill the Law is not to encourage or excuse carelessness, sloth, and intentional negligence...rather, it is so that (1) we, confessing the powerlessness of our abilities and the imperfection of our own righteousness, may flee for refuge to Christ, “who has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having been made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13); “through [Him] God has done what was impossible for the Law” (Rom. 8:3), “that He might be the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe” (Rom. 10:4). The glory of having perfect righteousness must be reserved for Christ alone, who is “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). Those who ignore and reject His righteousness “seeking to establish their own, are not under the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). Therefore the first use of this teaching lies in the article of justification, namely, that we not set before God’s judgment our imperfect and variously stained obedience to the Law but that we may learn that we are justified by faith in Christ. (2) The second use of this teaching lies in the article on good works, that we may learn that by the natural powers of our own free choice we cannot begin the sincere and true obedience we owe the Law, but the Law of God “must be written on our hearts” through the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:33), so that we may begin to show not merely an external obedience but also an inner one with a spontaneous spirit and from the heart. On the other hand, because this inchoate obedience is still very far from the perfection the Law requires, we cannot boast about it before the judgment of God but are forced to confess that “all our righteousnesses are as menstrual rags” (Isa. 64:6) and that, “when we have done everything, we are still but unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). (3) Lastly, it serves to teach us that the inchoate obedience of the regenerate is pleasing to God, not because it satisfies the law perfectly but because it proceeds from faith in Christ; through such faith its imperfection and remaining fault is covered.
Excerpt from On the Law (pre-publication), Concordia Publishing House 2015.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission of Concordia Publishing House.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Canticle Collects from Gesangbüchlein (Bonn, 1561)

I HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE recently of looking through the expanded edition of the Gesangüchlein Geistlicher Psalmen, Hymnen, lieder und gebet . . . (Bonn, 1561). It attracts attention from the very start. Near the front of the book is a quite full Kalendar of saints and festivals, so much so that one is at first made to wonder whether or not it is a Lutheran book. Lutheran hymnals and cantionals of the period tend to be a little sparing on the Kalendar, usually preferring to keep only festivals suggested by Luther, et al., or found only in Scripture, or not too much associated with any local cult or relic. The purpose here seems to have been to have a commemoration or festival for each day of the year. The Kalendars months have phrases to the left of the arabic numerals which are meant to be used a mnemonic device. Following the months are tables and more mnemonic verses for the days and seasons, Embertides, etc. There are also nice illustrations of a dominical letter wheel and a golden number wheel.

Toward the back of the Bonn hymnal, after a very extensive collection of versified psalms set to familiar, largely Lutheran, melodies, we find the Bonn Kirchen-Ordnung, or church order, including, among other things, an Exhortation to Communion, as we often find in church orders of this earlier period. This one is followed by a number of petitions, and Luther's embolism of the Lord's Prayer, and concludes with a transition into the Words of Institution. In this way the Exhortation seems to hint at an early form of the restoration of the Prayer of the Faithful, a series of collects now familiar to us from current Lutheran liturgical practice but once regularly omitted.

Following this, we find several collects more suited to use in personal prayers, including some founded on the Evangelical Canticles that find their regular place in Matins/Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. There is a clue, however, that they were used in public services or group settings: the responsive versicle before each Collect. I include these below in my own translation. Note: a final Collect appointed for the Te Deum has no versicle, and is excluded here because it is the Collect of Thanksgiving already familiar to us in the English (O Lord God, heavenly Father, from whom without ceasing we receive. . . ).


V. Thou, O child, shalt be called a prophet of the Most High.
R. Thou shalt go before the Lord to prepare His way.

Almighty God, heavenly Father, as Thou didst bring Thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world that we, being delivered by Him from all enemies, might serve Thee in all holiness and righteousness : grant us that, taking hold of this with true faith and being delivered from all the power of the devil, we may attain to the true holiness and righteousness that avails before Thee; through the same Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.


V. Blessed art thou who hast believed.
R. For that will be fulfilled which is told thee from the Lord.

Almighty God, who, when the Virgin Mary's believed Thy Word, didst do to her great things, making her the mother of Thy beloved Son, our Lord, by whom we all are made partakers of Thy divine nature, and in so doing Thou didst gloriously show forth Thy merciful adoption of the poor, the worthless, and the despised : grant that we also may with true faith be devoted to Thy Word in all humility and meekness, and so become true partakers of Thy Son, and His mothers, sisters, and brethren, as He saith; through the same . . .

Nunc dimittis.

V. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant go in peace.
R. For mine eyes have seen Thy Savior.

Almighty, everlasting God, we heartily beseech Thee, that, even as St. Simeon received Thy beloved Son bodily in his arms, and saw and knew Him spiritually : so we may be granted both to know and to worship Him; through the same Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 (Translation © 2013 Matthew Carver. Collects may be reproduced for non-commercial use.)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Who is the greatest?

Martin Chemnitz is.

So says Johann Gerhard--at least when it comes to comparing Scripture passages for the sake of drawing out their genuine meaning and harmonizing any seeming contradictions. No doubt Gerhard has in mind in the quote below all of Chemnitz's works, but especially the famed Harmony of the Four Evangelists that Chemnitz never finished and left to Polycarp Leyser. I wonder, did Gerhard know when he published these words in 1610 that he would be the one to complete the so-called Harmonia Evangelistarum Chemnitio-Lyseriana over fifteen years later?

What makes this quote even higher praise is that it is a sort of non sequitur. Gerhard blurts it out as the last sentence in a chapter on how to go about comparing scripture with scripture. He couldn't help but say it:

Now, the experts are compelled to acknowledge that Chemnitz is the great, inimitable master of comparing passages (On Interpreting Sacred Scripture§ 208, [1610 Loci Theologici, locus 2]).

Coming from one so skilled with scripture as Gerhard, I'm not sure higher praise exists among men.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Heavenly Birthday of Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), Arch-Theologian of the Lutheran Church

Johann Gerhard was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who lived about 100 years after Martin Luther. He was born in 1582, just two years after the last Lutheran confession, the Formula of Concord, had been published. He was always an excellent student in school and university, and after pursuing medicine for a while, he decided to study theology and become a pastor. In 1606, the year before Captain John Smith established Jamestown, Virginia, Gerhard received his first call—a call to be a pastor and superintendent of 26 parishes, and a lecturer at a high school. He was in his mid-twenties. Just by considering his first call, it’s obvious that his contemporaries thought very highly of the gifts God had given Gerhard. (Among us a new pastor is never made a district president or circuit counselor right off the bat.) Before he was 30, he had become a doctor of theology and had published several books. In his mid-thirties he was called to be a professor of theology at the German city of Jena, and there he spent the next 21 years, until his death. His first wife, Barbara, died after only three years of marriage, when he was 29. Three years later he married Maria Mattenberger, and lived happily with her for the rest of his life. The couple had ten children, four of whom died in early childhood, as was so common in those times.

Gerhard’s writings built up the church and Christian believers, and also defended it against attacks. His works that built up the church include his Sacred Meditations, Meditations on Divine Mercy, School of Piety, his Aphorisms, his Bible commentaries, and his many sermons, but most of all his work on the first great Lutheran study Bible, the Weimar Bible of 1640. His works that defended the church against attacks include the Theological Commonplaces and the book called The Catholic Confession. I’m happy to say that we here at CPH are doing more to make his writings known than anyone else has done for the last 300 years.

But Gerhard’s life was not just the happy life of a writer or teacher. In 1618, war broke out across Germany, a war which would continue off and on for thirty years. This Thirty Years War was especially fought between the Roman Catholic “Holy Roman Emperor” and the Lutheran Swedes, led by Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, who did not always treat the German Lutherans any better than the emperor’s army did. Because Gerhard had been so successful in defending Lutheran teaching against the Roman Catholic Church, the emperor’s soldiers plotted to kidnap Gerhard in 1631 and bring him to Rome for trial. Yet God preserved Gerhard from their plot. On the other hand, the Swedes were angry with Gerhard because of he had been advising peace with the emperor, and so Gerhard had to face the threat of imprisonment from them, too. In 1636 the Swedish army plundered Gerhard’s estate and burned his house and farm buildings. Then in 1637 the city of Jena was raided and plundered.

That year, the year Gerhard died, he wrote to his friend Salomon Glassius, telling him about the savagery of the soldiers: “But I am enduring all these things patiently and say along with Job: ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ He Himself, nevertheless, will look out for me and my household with the assistance necessary for life, for I see that my finish line is near.”[1] On August 12, 1637, the 54-year-old Gerhard became very ill, and he knew his death was approaching. In the next few days he spoke to friends and family, confessing the same faith that he had written throughout his life and making arrangements for his family and the university for after his death. Two days before his death he confessed his sins to his pastor, Adrian Beyer, and received private absolution and the Lord’s Supper from him. After receiving Christ’s Body and Blood he sang the common Lutheran communion hymn, “O Lord We Praise Thee, bless Thee and adore Thee.” Right after this, he arranged for money to be given to the poor people of his city, so that they could have a meal. The next two days he fell speechless, lost his eyesight, and most of his hearing. Yet shortly before giving up his spirit, on August 17, he uttered the words, “Come, come, Lord, come.”

(Source: Erdmann Rudolph Fischer, The Life of John Gerhard, trans. Richard J. Dinda and Elmer Hohle [Malone, TX: Repristination, 2001].)

[1] Cf. Fischer, Life of John Gerhard, p. 287.

Gerhard on Allegory and Dry Sermons

+ In memoriam Iohannis Gerhardi, uiri summae pietatis atque doctrinae. +

Gerhard has a wonderful discussion of allegories in his treatise On Interpreting Sacred Scripture. This section alone is worth the price of admission. Though his treatment is brief, it is a treasury of homiletical gems, and I will only discuss its barest outlines here. Indeed, it contains most everything that it took me years of seminary and experience to figure out about whether allegory may be used and if so, how. For the most part my experience has been that modern exegetes are hostile to allegorizing. Gerhard knew this debate well:

The fathers were fairly profuse in their allegories, while some today are fairly hostile to them. So what should be decided about allegories?
Gerhard warns that it is very easy to stray from the rule of faith when allegorizing (we're looking at you, Origen). He navigates the proper use of allegory in a few ways. He starts by noting the rhetorical distinction between a type and an allegory. What Paul is doing in Gal. 4:24, for example, is actually typology though he uses the term "allegory." Likewise, the fathers sometimes misuse these terms.

Next, Gerhard also insists that the literal meaning of Scripture in context is the meaning of the Holy Spirit (excepting those places where the Holy Spirit Himself interprets things allegorically or typologically). That is the basis of all exegesis and from it one can draw "various teachings, exhortations, consolations, and refutations against adversaries." For Gerhard all good allegory is simply responsible application of the text. Modern exegetes who shun allegory should consider rethinking their position along these lines. The original meaning of the text comes first, then in teaching and preaching you also have to apply it to your hearers (allegorize).

Gerhard then offers pointers on how best to allegorize. "The goal of all Scripture is Christ," urges Gerhard. "In allegories, therefore, it is His office, His benefits, and His reign that should be explained most of all." Furthermore, don't allegorize the moral Law like the Ten Commandments. Don't look for allegory everywhere. Do look for allegory in the ceremonial law and in historical narratives provided that you also maintain the facts of the actual events. Often both a type and an allegory can come from the same passage. For example, the account of David and Goliath is about Christ defeating the Devil (typology) and may be applied to the godly man overcoming the lusts of the flesh through faith (allegory). There are even times when allegory is demanded by the text or it will be especially advantageous to do so (when teaching the account of Jacob, Laban, Leah, and Rachel to your Sunday school kids your best bet is to go for the allegorical interpretation!)

Gerhard further notes how allegory makes for good preaching that is Bible rich and not dry or filled with cheeky stories:

When used appropriately and sparingly, allegories delight, stimulate, and remove tedium, which is why they are especially well suited for sermon openings [exordiis]. One must work tirelessly to make allegories appropriate, firstly and foremost that they be analogous to the faith.
This must be why Gerhard always starts his sermons with a type or allegory from the OT that pertains to the Sunday Gospel.

Finally, because allegory can be and has been greatly abused, Gerhard also gives sober warnings:

Be sure, however, not to search too far for allegories, for then they will be crude and inane. Be sure they do not militate against the chief parts of the historical account that we want to treat allegorically. Do not dwell on them longer than they deserve; instead, approach them gracefully, simply touching upon them with a few words subtly and discreetly.  Let them not be too intricate or perplexing. In short, it is not for everyone to appropriately and fittingly use allegories. Those who are less practiced in them should proceed soberly and prudently. Those who make use of allegories hastily and without discernment can easily propose something that the learned will contemn, the vicious will mock, and that will cause the weak to stumble. Undoubtedly Origen was rebuked by the ancients on this charge.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Herberger's Genesis Commentary

This is just a brief post to announce a new offer on the English translation of Herberger's Christological commentary on Genesis: The Great Works of God, vols. I & II. Both volumes can now be obtained at a 40% when purchased together. (There is also an informative interview and an excerpt from the book).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Valerius Herberger on the Feast of St. Martha (July 29)

Unum necessarium, 
  Principalis cura credentium.
Pars optima, qua cum Maria 
  Elegit sibi ecclesia,
  Quae non auferetur ab ea.

One thing's needful, one indeed—
  God grant us what we need.
Mary chose the better part—
  God grant us such a heart.

IN THE NAME of Jesus Christ (the lover of all solicitous, active Marthas, the willing, tender Heart-guest and House-guest of all those vigilant, dutiful Christians who, particularly with Mary, neglect no less than their own sustenance the best and most needful Part, and eagerly sit in devotion at His feet , and in addition suffer patiently all that they encounter), most blessed and adored with God the heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.

Devout hearts! Let us examine the beautiful Gospel concerning Martha and her sister Mary. And that we may happily learn from this text what is the most needful thing in our whole life, let us pray heartily: "O God, show us loving-kindness and faithfulness which preserve us; so will we always sing praises to Your name, and daily perform our vows" (Ps. 61:8–9).

Hear with devotion the beautiful Gospel which is appointed for the commemoration of Martha, from Luke 10:38–42.

It came to pass, when they . . . not be taken from her.


THIS GOSPEL account is worthy of all glory, for it makes plain and clear that the Lord Jesus certainly is a gracious Friend of man, and that it is His particular delight to stay in our house and heart; as He also declares, "My delight is in the children of men" (Prov. 8:31). At the same time, we also see how He is best entertained: with a devout heart that eagerly hears His Word and takes pleasure in being corrected from it. He Himself demonstrates this: "I have a food of which you do not know" (John 4:32). Such devout hearts are to Him the most pleasant friends on earth. Blessed forever is the one who gives Him similar reception.

Besides this we are shown what all devout hearts will get for their godliness. The Lord Jesus will earnestly take up their cause when they are met with any need, whether of body, soul, or death. He will be their advocate and defender before God the heavenly Father (1 John 2:1). He will defend them as He defended Mary in this passage when she was scolded by Martha. Now that is glory, that is comfort!

But let us briefly expound this account, and then pluck these two heart-leaves {i.e., the vital inner leaves of a plant, fig., "the best or dearest part"; the feast of St. Martha was popularly associated with certain leaves –MC}:
 1. What the best toil, trouble, and care under the sun is that a man can ever have in his life.
 2. What benefit and fruit are gotten from it.

God bless the beginning, middle, and end of our thoughts and words. Amen.

 . . .

NOW FOLLOWS the Two Heart-Leaves from this Gospel account.

The First: What is the best, most important toil, trouble, and care that a man can spend his life involved in? Answer: Above all things, receive with Martha the Lord Jesus into your house and heart, and let Him be the dearest to you. "To love Jesus is better than knowing all things" (Eph. 3:19). Open the door of your heart, that He may come in and sup with you (Rev. 3:20). The ancient doctors of the church ask, Why would the Lord Jesus not have a house for Himself on earth? (Matt. 8:20), and answer: First, that we might have our own dwellings in heaven (John 14:2); second, that we might see that He is most fond of dwelling in the houses of men's hearts. This is why He says, "Dear child, give Me your heart" (Prov. 23:26). O blessed are those hearts and houses which receive Jesus! Salvation will certainly come to such hearts and houses (Luke 19:29). "Indeed," some say, "if the Lord Jesus came to me, I would certainly receive Him!" Answer: O how many lips do lie! For the Lord Jesus does come to you in the Word and most blessed Sacraments, and through many poor people who have need of you. Why then are you so slothful and lazy? Change your ways! After that, let your heaven on earth be to sit with Martha at the Lord's feet and listen to what He says. "One thing I ask of the LORD," says David [Ps. 27:4]. "I had rather keep the door in the house of the LORD than be a great prince in the world," says Psalm 84:10. Whenever the Gospel is sounding, string every word on the cord of your devotion, thread every word in the eyelet {lit., "earlet"} of your memory, fill the vessel of your heart to the brim. Even if the children of the world are impatient with you, as Martha was with Mary, pay no regard. Let them scoff and scold. Endure it all with patience and do not depart from Christ's feet. Remain faithful to Him as long as you draw breath (Rev. 2:10; Matt. 10:12; 24:13). Seek all your comfort in Him in life and death. Always remember where His feet went in pursuit of your salvation. Finally, let no one in the world convince you that other things are more important, as Martha thinks on this occasion. This one thing is needful to be saved. Mary chose what was best. You would not be in your right mind if you were to reject the box of gold for the worst box of lead.

Now examine your heart and see what kind of guests have been welcomed there. Turn out the devil, the world, and your own deluded will, and make room for the Lord Jesus alone. Do not wash the Lord Jesus' head {i.e., do not find fault with Him}, do not undermine His Word like Jeremiah's obstinate hearers (Jer. 44:16), like unbridled drunkards, gamblers, and fornicators. Do not break faith with Him like Demas and Julian [the Apostate]. Do not run off after every foolish thing, or it will be like saving the spoon and breaking the bowl, or digging for coal instead of treasures.

The Second Heart-Leaf: What benefit is derived from undertaking this most important of tasks? The Lord Jesus says it: "Mary chose the good part, which shall not be taken from her." That is, she will benefit from it in time and in eternity. You also will derive certain benefit from it. When you pray, God will graciously hear you. When cross comes, God will comfort you. When you fall into tribulation, you will have protection from heaven. Your doings and dealings with be blessed. When you need an advocate with God, Jesus will speak the right word for you, as He does for Mary here. When your last hour arrives, you will not see or taste death but pass through to life. It will usher you into heaven. Therefore Jerome says, Discamus ea in terris, quorum notitia perseveret in caelis. "Let us learn on earth that which abides in heaven." You will not be forsaken in any trouble. If you have received the Lord Jesus with His Word into the house of your heart, He will take you into His house of heaven on the Last Day, "where there are many dwellings." Thus our forebears say, Martha recepit Dominum in domum cordis, et recepta est ab eo in domum aeternitatis! "Martha received the Lord into the house of her heart, and she was received by Him into the everlasting house."

Therefore when the church bells ring, don't just stand or lie there, but go to the sermon. Say with Christ, "One thing is needful." Necessaria prius. "Needful things first."

When you see the world running after money and wealth, and saying, O cives, quaerenda pecunia primum, etc. "O citizens, to the money first!" then say, "I'll stick with Mary, who chose the best part." Valeat pecunia, valeat vita, [=Valeat vita, pereat pecunia,] said a godly martyr [Julitta and Blandina], famula Christi sum. "Away with money, away with life! I am a maidservant of Christ" (v. Basil). Worldly possessions are not the best part, they are the least part. That cathedral canon could find no consolation in his piles of ducats when he was on his deathbed.

When you see the arrogant works-righteous confiding in their sham works, say, "O what a useless, decrepit, worm-ridden part!" Wandregisle and Dr. Kreutzenach learned this in their final distress.

When you see certain blind men choosing sin, scandal, drunkenness, gluttony, fornication, lying, and stealing, think, "Keep me from that part, O God! That is not the best part but the worst and most harmful of all!" Those people will have no part with Christ. Ignis et sulphur pars calicis eorum. "Fire and brimstone . . . will be their reward" [Ps. 11:6].

In this way approve what is best (Phil. 1:10), choose the good, the best part, that will not be taken from you, and you will have succeeded here. Amen.

(Translation © 2013 Matthew Carver; from Valerius Herberger, Evangelische Hertz-Postille, ed. Leipzig, 1721; vol. 2, pp. 263–267.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gerhard on less than ideal exegesis

Every pastor has looked back on sermons in horror to wonder what possessed him to interpret Scripture that way. What happens when you preach or teach something that you later regret as less than A+ exegesis? Gerhard offers comfort repeatedly in his commonplace on interpreting Scripture. Hey, even the fathers did this--a lot. As long as you are not teaching something that undermines the rule of faith it's going to be OK. This is not an excuse for lazy exegesis and lazy preaching but the simple acknowledgement that some things in Scripture are "hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16), even though the main dogmas of heaven (i.e., the rule of faith) are taught in Scripture explicitly and clearly.
We do very well if we use all these means [of interpretation] and finally come to the true sense of Scripture, or, even if we do not arrive at the genuine meaning of a passage, if we still do not err from the rule of faith. Therefore we are not condemned by the passage that Stapleton quotes from Augustine (De Genes. ad. liter., bk. 1, last ch.): “That [interpretation] must especially be chosen which does not go against the context of Scripture and which accords with the sound faith. If, however, one cannot study and examine the context of sacred Scripture, at the least he should alone cling to what the sound faith prescribes.”
If ever we are unable to arrive at the original meaning for the obscurer passages we must not depart from the rule of faith.
(Translation © 2013 Joshua Hayes. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Christian Scriver on the Lord's Supper

Christian Scriver (d. 1693), “The Holy Supper,” in Gottholds zufällige Andachten (1663, reprint Berlin: Evangelischer Bücher-Verein, 1853), no. 390.

On this occasion they went further and began to speak of the high dignity of the Holy Supper. I am amazed, said Gotthold, and my heart rejoices in all the wonders of the love of Jesus Christ, but in none of them more than in this wondrous Sacrament, in which He truly feeds us with His holy, life-giving flesh and gives us to drink of His precious blood. Just as the sun shines brightest at noon, so the love of the Son of God gleams most magnificently in this stupendous Meal. Here His divine heart has opened itself wide, like a rose in full bloom. He gives me not His clothes, not His image, not silver or gold, not crown or scepter, but Himself with all His merit, total righteousness, all of heaven, and blessedness.

In 2 Sam. 12:3, when the prophet Nathan wanted to show how much the man loved his lamb, he said, “It ate of his own food, and drank of his own cup, and slept in his bosom, and he considered it as a daughter.” My Jesus feeds me with the bread of life, with Himself. I drink not just from His cup, but even from His holy wounds. I sleep (find rest for my soul and joy for my troubled heart in His bosom) in His sweet grace and the assurance of His love. He considers me as His son and brother, even as His own heart. He binds Himself with me in an unspeakable way. He becomes my food, drink, life, power, strength, joy, consolation, and all. Here my soul is united, mixed, joined, and penetrated by His soul; my body with His body; my blood with His blood; my heart with His heart; my weakness, misery, need, and imperfection with His divinity, glory, and holiness. Incomprehensible, wondrous love! O Jesus! You are ever a sweet “Jesus” and Savior, but nowhere do Your faithful people taste and perceive Your sweetness and kindness as much as in this precious Meal of love! Therefore one of them says that the joy of all creatures, however much a heart could have, is nothing compared to the joy found in the enjoyment of this Meal.

When I approach it, I see You in spirit and faith with Your holy wounds, dripping with blood. I hear You call out, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you life; you shall find rest for your soul” ([cf.] Matt. 11:28–29). When I partake of it, I think that I am hearing You say to my soul: “You are in Me, and I am in you!” (John 14:20). When I walk back, my soul says, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His, and His turning is toward me” ([cf.] Song 2:16; 7:10). After this heavenly Meal, my “dessert,” if I may so speak, is the end of the golden, eighth chapter of Romans, from verse 31 to the end. How well I am then! How drunk my soul becomes! How confident my heart is! How bold I then am against Satan, sin, hell, death, and against the world with all of its amusements and vanity! Then it seems to me that I am no longer who I was; I am Christ, not personally, but Christ’s righteousness, victory, life, and all He has are my own. Then I do not know whether sin, misery, cross, need, death, or devil are in the world anymore; they only thing I know is that Jesus reigns over all and is mine.

But woe, woe! What has happened to this most holy institution? Mad reason wants to teach and correct its Lord and has turned the memorial of love into a meal of strife. Mockers and atheists laugh at it. Hypocrites dishonor it. The common crowd runs to it heedless, without repentance, faith, love, examination, preparation, without devotion and a holy intent. Godless, condemned world! What more should the kind, loving God do for you than He has already done? And how could you make it worse than you have already made it? He gave You His Son; you made Him into a servant of sin (Gal. 2:17). He offered you His grace, richly; you turned it into lasciviousness (Jude 4). He gave you His Word; you mocked it. He promised you forgiveness of sins; you took it as an opportunity to sin even more. He through His Son established a precious Meal of love; you turned it into an excuse for all hypocrisy and security. Now fulfill the measure of your malice. Soon the just and holy God will shake it out into your bosom.

O Lord Jesus! Let me be among the few who hold all that You speak, order, do, and give as high, precious, and worthy! Let your venerable Supper be my heaven on earth, until I come to heaven!
Copyright 2013 Benjamin T. G. Mayes. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Summary of Gerhard's Hermeneutic

Johann Gerhard summarizes (very briefly) the necessary tools for interpreting Scripture (Loci Theologici, loc. 2, De interpretatione Scripturae Sacrae, Cotta: Tubingen: 1762):

§ 71. Let us sum up our claims about the true interpretation of Scripture.
(1) In understanding and interpreting the Scriptures our mind is blind and lacking the light of the Holy Spirit.
(2) In addition to the inborn blindness of all men, some are blinded by their own wickedness and stubborn impudence even though the Holy Spirit opened or wanted to open their eyes.
(3) Because our mind is blinded there is need to implore the Holy Spirit’s light through prayer.
(4) Moreover, the Holy Spirit does not work this illumination of the mind apart from means, but it happens through the light of the Word when it is heard and meditated.
(5) The dogmas that are necessary for one to know for his salvation are laid out in proper, clear, and perspicuous words.
(6) From these the rest of the passages of Scripture are elucidated.
(7) This is why the rule of faith is assembled from the clear passages of Scripture, and one’s exposition of the other passages must conform to it..
(8) Even if we do not always arrive at the most proper and natural sense of every single passage, it is enough not to say anything contrary to the analogy of the faith when interpreting them.
(9) Nevertheless, it is still beneficial to interpret even the more obscure passages of Scripture rightly and skillfully. This will happen if we apply the suitable remedies for alleviating obscurities.
(10) In order to find these remedies, we have to seek out the sources of obscurity.
(11) Some passages of Scripture are obscure in themselves and when taken on their own, while others are so when compared with other passages—that is, when they seem to contradict other passages. The reconciliation of passages is a good aid for this kind of obscurity.
(12) Things that are obscure in and of themselves are discerned as such due to the subject matter or to the words. Having some certain axioms in every article of the faith brings relief to the obscurity of subject matter. These axioms should be followed as a guiding star.
(13) Obscurity on account of words is serviced by grammatical explanation of the vocables, rhetorical exposition of tropes and figures, dialectic observation of the order and circumstances, and finally  by a physical understanding of things in nature. It will prove especially helpful in all of these to wisely and carefully compare passages of Scripture where the same vocables and phrases are used, or even where different ones are used for the same things, or the same are used to express different ideas.

§ 72. Let this be said in general about the requisite means for legitimately interpreting Scripture. The supreme and authoritative interpreter of Scripture is, as we assert, the Holy Spirit. It is He who lays out the dogmas that are necessary for one to know for salvation in proper and clear words in Scripture. As for everything else in the Scriptures that is more obscure, to skillfully interpret them we need prayer, knowledge of the languages the Holy Spirit used as His amanuenses, to observe the order and circumstances in a given passage, to wisely and carefully compare passages, and above all we need to follow the rule of faith lest we say anything that is contrary to it when interpreting passages that are rather obscure.
(Translation © 2013 Joshua Hayes. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gerhard on why we can have pure doctrine

From a forthcoming volume on interpreting scripture:

§ 26. “The very thing that the prophets and apostles set forth to their hearers is the same thing that they put into the Scriptures by God’s will. It is not something different,” says Irenaeus (Adversus haer., bk. 3, ch. 1). Therefore just as those who heard the prophets and apostles could perceive from their words what the will of God was and what the mind and thinking of the Holy Spirit was, so we too can read the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures and from their books perceive what the will of God is and what is the mind and thinking of the Holy Spirit. The act of preaching and the act of writing are external accidents that do not change the essence of a thing. Just as oral speaking is the expression [ἀπεικόνισμα] of the mind’s thoughts, so writing is the expression the words from one’s mouth. The philosopher [Aristotle] discusses this (περὶ ἑρμην., ch. 1): “Spoken words are symbols of the perceptions of one’s consciousness, and written words are symbols of spoken words.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Petschely's Cantor Christianus: Because it sounds better in Latin

One of my "someday/maybe" projects now for a long time has been to compile as many Latin versions (original or translated) of hymns used by Lutherans into a volume that could be used on a Sunday morning alongside of Lutheran Service Book. There is no particular reason why one cannot be singing "Arx firma noster Deus est" while everyone else sings "A mighty fortress is our God" or "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott."

I am relieved to know that my desire to do so is not unprecedented in Lutheranism. Enter Johann Gottfried Petschely, Cantor Christianus, i.e., Cantica Sacra ad quaeuis tempora, et ad quemuis animarum statum accommodata. Solisbaci: Lichtenthalerianis: 1754. ("The Christian Singer: Sacred songs arranged according to various seasons and various life-situations"). This lovely volume contains 916 octavo pages of hymns in Latin. Some are Latin hymns while others are metric translations of German hymns. The volume is arranged according to themes and the church year, much like modern Lutheran hymnals such as LSB, and contains two indexes--one German, the other Latin.

Of course Cantor Christianus does not stand alone. The author's preface credits and lists many other works along the same lines. Petschely claims that writings become clearer and more lucid the more they are expressed in other languages. Therefore where one may not pay as much attention to a vernacular (German) hymn, when rendered into Latin the original is elucidated for the poet and reader. After giving this and many other reasons for the value of his work, he then acknowledges that "some people will undoubtedly think that this way of singing in Latin is a joke, not suitable enough for those who pursue good literature" (4). These are usually the same people, he notes, that cannot appreciate the beauty of Latin, and besides, why should German Lutherans keep their treasure all to themselves when so many could benefit from these hymns who do not know German?

I offer here just one small sample known to us as "Now Thank We all Our God" (LSB 895). Interestingly enough, LSB places this in the "Harvest and Thanksgiving" section while Petschely lists it as a "post sermon hymn."

pp. 74-75
Post Concionem.
41.) Nun dancket alle GOtt, mit Herzen etc.
Nunc plausu manuum cordisque celebremus
DEVM, quem magnas res conficere uidemus
Nos qui ab utero et incunabulis
Ornatos maximis uult beneficiis!

2. Diuitiarum Fons nos laeta mente donet,
Et pace tempora Propitius coronet!
Nos sua gratia constanter protegat,
Et malis omnibus tandem eripiat!

3. Sit PATRI gloria perpetuo Rectori,
TRIN-VNI NVMINI, cuius essentia
Est, fuit, et erit, in cuncta secula!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Ordination of St. Timothy (Johann Gerhard)

Johann Gerhard discusses the call and ordination of St. Timothy in this selection from Theological Commonplaces: On the Ministry, Part One (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), § 62, pp. 83-85. Gerhard is arguing against the Socinians, whom he calls "Photinians." They were a unitarian movement centered in southern Poland.
§ 62. Schmaltzius makes the objection, Refut. D. Frantz., p. 376: “Instead of the observed and considered custom of the Old and New Testament churches being able to remind us that one by no means teaches, [and] that no one is able to take upon himself the duties of teaching others without a sending, much rather it can assure someone that it is not necessary for that to be observed perpetually, since custom and necessity are all but contrary.”

We respond. That perpetual practice of the church depends on divine ordinance and institution, as is obvious from the previously cited passages. Hence it should not be set against necessity. Therefore Augustine’s statement holds true here (De bapt. contra Donat., bk. 4, ch. 4): “Reason and truth must be preferred to custom; but if the truth supports custom, nothing should be retained more firmly.” One cannot say without great absurdity that custom and the necessity of a commandment are perpetually opposed to each other. Luke 2:[42] says that Christ’s parents went up to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover “according to custom.” Yet they were doing this very thing under the necessity of a commandment (Exod. 23:17; Deut. 16:16).

Theophilus Nicolaides (Defens. tract. Socin. de ecclesia et missione ministr., ch. 1, p. 143) makes some specific objections to those passages. (1) He claims that “1 Tim. 4:14 speaks not about the teaching duty but about the grace of God that was in Timothy, that is, about the spiritual gifts which had come to him miraculously.”

We respond. We do not deny that χάρισμα properly means “spiritual gifts.” However, from this one cannot infer that the sending and ordination of Timothy cannot be deduced from this text, because those spiritual gifts had come to Timothy in the very call and ordination, which was being accomplished through the imposition of the hands of Paul and of the presbyters.

Nicolaides is forced to acknowledge this, now that the lightning of truth has convicted him. Therefore he adds: “The teaching office had come to Timothy through prophecy, that is, through the votes of the chief men in the church of Christ, with the imposition of the hands of the presbytery.” Therefore he makes a different objection and adds: “Even if it were conceded that Paul sent Timothy by the imposition of hands, what will he” (Miedzebozius) “make of this, responding that each and every one who enters the teaching office is sent by someone else? Yet an affirming conclusion from species to genus is not valid. At that time, Timothy could have been sent by Paul or even by other elders of the church, not because this was necessary for that office of teaching and because without a sending Timothy could not have taught others, but because at that time order and decency in the church required it.”

We respond. (a) The Photinians’ theorem is that those who are not bringing out a new and previously unheard-of doctrine have no need for a particular sending. It is correct to set the example of Timothy against this. He did not propose new doctrine in the church at Ephesus, of which he had been established as bishop, and yet he in particular had been sent and ordained to the ministry. In fact, Paul says explicitly about Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might appoint presbyters in every town” (Titus 1:5).

(b) Indeed, it is not always permissible to argue from species to genus. Yet one may proceed from an enumeration of all species to the genus, from a sufficient induction of all examples to a general rule, and from those things that are constituted in the same way and do not allow a contrary objection to a universal declaration. This is how Paul, in Romans 4, proves the free justification of faith from the examples of Abraham and David, because all the devout are justified in the same way as Abraham and David were justified, and no one can give a contrary example of people who were justified differently. The matter is constituted the same way in this question about the calling of ministers. As Timothy did not preach without a sending, so none of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and other teachers of the church preached without a sending. Consequently, from the example of Timothy it is correct to infer the general rule that no one should preach without a sending.

(c) Whatever sort of order and decency of the church once required Timothy’s sending, the same sort of order and decency of the church also today requires the sending of ministers. But now, that order was not arbitrary and indifferent [ἀδιάφορος] but was necessary by virtue of divine command, apostolic example, and the salvation of the church. Therefore such order still today requires the sending of ministers.

Nicolaides acknowledges this in part as he immediately adds: “It would have been excessively disgraceful in an already well-established commonwealth for there to be so great a confusion (ἀταξία) and for those things to be neglected that had to do with adorning it. So also today it would be indecent for those who are going to teach others to be established without a certain order and decency, because the assemblies have been established and there are elders in them.” What he adds in regard to the lack of a necessary and general regulation in this matter can be judged from the preceding.

(2) He says that 1 Tim. 5:22 “deals not with the ordination of ministers but with receiving a fallen sinner” (Defens., ch. 2, p. 177).

We respond. On the contrary, wherever in the history [Acts] and Epistles of the apostles there is mention of the imposition of hands, there is expressed there, for the most part, the ceremony that was usually used in the ordination and sending of ministers (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). This ceremony was also used in conferring the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17) and in miracles (Acts 9:12; 19:6; 28:8). But nowhere do we read that the apostles used this ceremony in receiving fallen sinners. Therefore it is groundless for him to assert that this apostolic statement must be taken to mean such a reception. The words that follow, “Do not participate in the sins of others,” do not oppose our interpretation. These words, you see, either contain a particular command distinct from the previous one, or they give the cause why the ministry should be committed to no one quickly, namely, lest such a neophyte, without careful judgment and consideration, having been selected, should stir up disturbances in the church, the cause of which could be attributed partly to us. See Ambrose and all the ancients on this passage.
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