Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Book Review: Three Treatises

Three Treatises. Martin Luther. 1970. Fortress Press. 316 pages. [Source: Gift]

Martin Luther wrote Three Treatises in 1520. The Three Treatises are: To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of A Christian. While I suppose you could read them individually, I think they are best read together sequentially. But. After saying that, if you read only one book in your entire life by Martin Luther, make it The Freedom of a Christian.

In To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther breaks down the "three walls" protecting the Roman Catholic church from criticism, actual dialogue, and reform. The temporal (national, secular) powers have no jurisdiction over the church in any way. The church is the only judge of the church. The only person who can interpret Scripture is the pope, so it doesn't matter how many people--priests, or whomever--use Scripture to argue for reform--the pope is the only one allowed to be right. No one is allowed to call council meetings except the pope, and the pope, of course, would control what was talked about. So people were locked out--blocked out--from discussion or dialogue. There would be no 'reasoning together' or healthy dialogue. So Luther's reckoning that the church was corrupting Scripture had no official outlet. Luther sets out to break down the walls. The church--the pope--are not infallible. And reform is sometimes essential to staying healthy and pure. One by one, Luther starts knocking down the walls.
When the pope acts contrary to the Scriptures, it is our duty to stand by the Scriptures, to reprove him and to constrain him, according to the word of Christ. (Matthew 18:15-17) (22)
It doesn't take Luther long to knock down the walls. He then spends the rest of the treatise sharing with readers what he would discuss freely and openly in a council meeting if he were allowed to call for one. These are his discussion points. There are many, many, many things he would call to the Pope's attention, the church's attention. These are the issues that demand REFORM.

These sections might prove a tiny bit tedious for the casual reader. But the context they give readers shouldn't be underestimated. If one is to appreciate the Reformation, one must know a great deal about why the reformation was necessary, and why reform was worth fighting for and dying for. It is essential that readers--that believers--know why Luther was protesting so courageously, so loudly, so boldly. These weren't "little" "insignificant" matters.

Favorite quotes from this first treatise:
  • Nobody wants to walk in the straight path of God's commandments common to all of us. Everybody invents new ways and vows for himself as if he had already fulfilled all of God's commandments. (60)
  • O dear Christians, God does not care for much praying, but for true praying. (71)
  • How can we prosper when we behave so wrongly and give the Bible, the holy word of God, a back seat? (97)
  • The number of books on theology must be reduced and only the best ones published. It is not many books that make men learned, nor even reading. But it is a good book frequently read, no matter how small it is, that makes a man learned in the Scriptures and godly. Indeed, the writings of all the holy fathers should be read only for a time so that through them we may be led into the Scriptures. As it is, however, we only read them these days to avoid going any further and going into the Bible. We are like men who read the sign posts and never travel the road they indicate. Our dear fathers wanted to lead us to Scriptures by their writings, but we use their works to get away from Scriptures. Nevertheless, the Scripture alone is our vineyard in which we must all labor and toil. (98)
  • I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God's word becomes corrupt. (100)
  • I greatly fear that the universities unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell. (100)
The second treatise is about church sacraments. Luther discusses the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic church. Noting the ways they need reform. Or in some cases noting that they need to be abolished completely. Luther argues that the church needs but two--possibly three--sacraments: communion (The Lord's Supper) and baptism. (The third possible being confession.) He goes through the sacraments one by one, and this book is surprisingly easy to follow.

Favorite quotes from this treatise:
  • It is one thing to misapply the Scriptures and another to understand them in their proper sense. (133)
  • No violence is to be done to the words of God, whether by man or angel. They are to be retained in their simplest meaning as far as possible. Unless the context manifestly compels it, they are not to be understood apart from their grammatical and proper sense, lest we give our adversaries occasion to make a mockery of all the Scriptures. (146) 
  • The authority of God's word is greater than the capacity of our intellect to grasp it. (151)
  • We must be careful to give more heed to the Word of God than to all the thoughts of men and of angels. (156)
  • God does not deal, nor has he ever dealt, with man otherwise than through a word of promise. We in turn cannot deal with God otherwise than through faith in the Word of his promise. (160)
  • Where there is a divine promise, there every one must stand on his own feet; his own personal faith is demanded, he will give an account for himself and bear his own load. (168)
  • You have the utmost certainty of the gospel, and by relying on it, you may well disregard the belief and opinions of men. (175)
  • What is the whole gospel but the good tidings of the forgiveness of sins? (176)
  • The sinner does not so much need to be washed as he needs to die, in order to be wholly renewed and made another creature, and to be conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ, with whom he dies and rises again through baptism. (191) 
  • It is far more forceful to say that baptism signifies that we die in every way and rise to eternal life, than to say that it signifies that we are washed clean of sins. (191)
  • You need continually to be baptized by faith, continually to die and continually to live. (192)
  • It is enough if we lament the sins which distress our conscience at the present moment, as well as those which we can readily call to mind. Whoever is in this frame of mind is without doubt ready to grieve and fear for all his sins, and will grieve and fear whenever they are brought to his knowledge in the future. (211)
The third treatise is The Freedom of a Christian. Written in 1520, this little gem of a treatise is all about the Christian life, how to walk with Christ, how to journey through our earthly pilgrimage. It is a GREAT book and should be required reading!!!

My favorite quotes:
  • I have neither the power nor the will to deny the Word of God. (268)
  • A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. (277)
  • One thing, and only one thing is necessary for Christian life, righteousness and freedom. (279)
  • Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing, since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation,joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. (279)
  • As the soul needs only the Word of God for its life and righteousness, so it is justified by faith alone and not any works; for if it could be justified by anything else, it would not need the Word and consequently it would not need faith. (280)
  • True faith in Christ is a treasure beyond comparison which brings with it complete salvation and saves man from every evil. (281)
  • The promises of God give what the commandments of God demand and fulfill what the law prescribes so that all things may be God's alone, both the commandments and the fulfilling of the commandments. He alone commands, he alone fulfills. (283)
  • Faith works truth and righteousness by giving God what belongs to him. (285)
  • Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ's, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul's for if Christ is the bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride's and bestow upon her the things that are his. (286)
  • Rather ought Christ to be preached to the end that faith in him may be established that he may not only be Christ, but be Christ for you and me, and that what is said of him and is denoted in his name may be effectual in us. Such faith is produced and preserved in us by preaching why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, what benefit it is to us to accept him. This is doen when that Christian liberty which he bestows is rightly taught and we are told in what way we Christians are all kings and priests and therefore lords of all and may firmly believe that whatever we have done is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God. (292-3)
  • So the Christian who is consecrated by his faith does good works, but the words do not make him holier or more Christian, for that is the work of faith alone. And if a man were not first a believer and a Christian, all his works would amount to nothing and would be truly wicked and damnable sins. (297)
  • A man does not live for himself alone in this mortal body to work for it alone, but he lives also for all men on earth; rather, he lives only for others and not for himself. (301)
  • From Christ the good things have flowed and are flowing into us. (309)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Gently Mad said...

These are excellent quotes. I have read through Luther's smaller catechism. It's good to know I can read other sources about him.

Found your blog through Risa's. I look forward to reading future posts.

I also have a blog Gently Mad ( if you'd like to visit. I review and eclectic mix of classic and non fiction.