First sentence: This is a book you will want to read more than once.
In the introduction, Lutzer writes:
We can neither forget Luther nor ignore him. Even today his writings still constitute a doctrinal divide that has shaped Western Christianity. He wrote and spoke on many topics, such as the relationship of the church and state, Christian marriage, and the growing menace of the Turks who were overrunning parts of Europe. But his greatest contribution had to do with the nature of salvation, the sinfulness of humanity, and the wonder of God’s grace.Jack Kilcrease has written introductions (and footnotes) for each excerpt from Martin Luther's works.
The book is divided--rightly so--into five sections: "Sola Fide," "Sola Gratia," "Sola Scriptura," "Solus Christus," "Soli Deo Gloria." Each section contains a few selections from Luther's works. For example, "Sola Fide," features On Christian Liberty and an excerpt from Luther's Commentary on Galatians.
I really LOVED this one. It has been only recently that I've dared to read Martin Luther himself as opposed to just reading about Martin Luther. So far I've just read The Three Treatises. But this book made me want to read MORE…and more this year!
I would recommend this one to anyone looking to be introduced to Martin Luther or the Reformation.
But one thing is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty. That is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25); and also, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36); and, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Let us therefore hold to be firmly established that the soul can do without everything except the Word of God, without which none at all of its wants are provided for. But, having the Word, it is rich and lacks nothing, since that is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, justification, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, virtue, grace, glory, and all good things. It is on this account that the prophet in a whole psalm (Ps. 119) and in many other places sighs for and calls on the Word of God with so many groans and words.
There is no crueler blow of the wrath of God than when he sends a famine of hearing his words (Amos 8:11). Likewise, there is no greater favor from him than the sending forth of his Word, as it is said, “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction” (Ps. 107:20).
To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone, and the efficacious use of the Word of God, brings salvation. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). And again, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4); and, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). For the Word of God cannot be received and honored by any works, but by faith alone. Hence it is clear that as the soul needs the Word alone for life and justification, so it is justified by faith alone and not by any works. For if it could be justified by any other means, it would have no need of the Word, nor consequently of faith.
Christ is God and man in one person, and as neither has sinned, nor dies, nor is condemned—indeed, cannot sin, die, or be condemned—and since his righteousness, life, and salvation are invincible, eternal, and almighty, therefore I say that when such a person, by the wedding ring of faith, takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of his wife—indeed, makes them his own—and deals with them in no other way than as if they were his and as if he himself had sinned; and when he suffers, dies, and descends to hell, that he may overcome all things, since sin, death, and hell cannot swallow him up, they must be swallowed up by him in stupendous conflict. For his righteousness rises above the sins of all men, his life is more powerful than all death, and his salvation is more unconquerable than all hell. Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its husband, Christ.
Who then can value this royal marriage highly enough? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious prostitute, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid on Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband, Christ, a righteousness that she may claim as her own and that she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine,” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16). This is what Paul says: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”—victory over sin and death, as he says: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:57, 56).
Christ has gained for us this favor, if we believe in him, that just as we are his brethren and coheirs and fellow kings with him, so we should be also fellow priests with him and venture with confidence through the spirit of faith to come into the presence of God and cry “Abba, Father!” and to pray for one another, and to do all things that we see done and figured in the visible and earthly office of priesthood.
Now preaching ought to have the object of promoting faith in him, so that he may not only be Christ but a Christ for you and for me, and that what is said of him and what he is called may work in us. And this faith is produced and is maintained by preaching why Christ came, what he has brought us and given to us, and to what profit and advantage he is to be received.
The curse of God is like a flood that swallows everything that is not of faith. To avoid the curse we must hold on to the promise of the blessing in Christ.
“Sin” in the Scriptures means not only external works of the body but also all those movements within us that stir themselves up and move us to do the external works—namely, the depth of the heart with all its powers. Therefore the word “do” should refer to a person’s completely falling into sin. No external work of sin happens, after all, unless a person commits himself to it completely, body and soul. In particular, the Scriptures see into the heart, to the root and main source of all sin: unbelief in the depth of the heart. Thus, even as faith alone makes just and brings the Spirit and the desire to do good external works, so it is only unbelief that sins and exalts the flesh and brings desire to do evil external works. That is what happened to Adam and Eve in Paradise (cf. Gen. 3).
Faith is not that human illusion and dream that some people think it is. When they hear and talk a lot about faith and yet see that no moral improvement and no good works result from it, they fall into error and say, “Faith is not enough. You must do works if you want to be virtuous and get to heaven.” The result is that, when they hear the gospel, they stumble and make for themselves with their own powers a concept in their hearts that says, “I believe.” This concept they hold to be true faith. But since it is a human fabrication and thought and not an experience of the heart, it accomplishes nothing, and there follows no improvement.
Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active, powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith should ever stop doing good works. Faith does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever does not do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works. Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith.
The first duty of a preacher of the gospel is, through his revealing of the law and of sin, to rebuke and to turn into sin everything in life that does not have the Spirit and faith in Christ as its base. Thereby he will lead people to a recognition of their miserable condition, and thus they will become humble and yearn for help.
The clarity of the Scripture is twofold, just as the obscurity is also twofold. The one is external, placed in the ministry of the Word; the other internal, placed in the understanding of the heart. If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures but he that has the Spirit of God. All have a darkened heart so that, even if they know how to speak of and set forth all things in the Scripture, yet they cannot feel them nor know them. Neither do they believe that they are the creatures of God, or anything else according to that of Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” For the Spirit is necessary to understand the whole of the Scripture and every part of it. If you speak of the external clearness, nothing at all is left obscure or ambiguous. But all things that are in the Scriptures are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world.
What help is it to you that God is God if he is not God for you?
Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believe it is your work. Do you see his crown of thorns? Believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts! Where one thorn pierces Christ, there more than a thousand thorns should pierce you; indeed, they should eternally even more painfully pierce you. Where one nail is driven through his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer this and even more painful nails, as will be also visited on those who let Christ’s sufferings be lost and fruitless as far as they are concerned. For this truthful mirror, Christ, will neither deceive nor mock. For whatever he says must be fully realized.
You must at the time of death, if not sooner, fall into terror, tremble, quake, and experience all Christ suffered on the cross. It is truly terrible to be confronted with this on your deathbed. Therefore you should pray to God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate on Christ’s Passion. For it is impossible for us to meditate profoundly on the sufferings of Christ by ourselves unless God presses them into our hearts.
Cast your sins from yourself and on Christ; believe with a celebratory spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Isaiah 53:6 says: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”; and St. Peter in his First Epistle (2:24): “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” On these and like passages you must rely completely, and so much the more when your conscience torments you. For if you do not take this course but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace and must yet finally despair out of doubt [in your salvation]. For if we deal with the sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For on Christ they cannot rest; there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you will now see no wound, no pain, in him—that is, no sign of sin.
If a day of sorrow or sickness weighs you down, think how trifling that is compared with the thorns and nails of Christ.
The law of Moses leaves no loopholes. It says that a transgressor should be hanged. Who are the other sinners? We are. The sentence of death and everlasting damnation had long been pronounced over us. But Christ took all our sins and died for them on the cross. “He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest sinner, murderer, adulterer, thief, and blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth. When he took the sins of the whole world on himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer, Peter who denied Christ, and David who committed adultery and murder and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged with the sins of all men that he should pay for them with his own blood. The curse struck him. The law found him among sinners. He was not only in the company of sinners. He had gone so far as to invest himself with the flesh and blood of sinners. So the law judged and hanged him for a sinner.
Being the unspotted Lamb of God, Christ was personally innocent. But because he took the sins of the world, his sinlessness was defiled with the sinfulness of the world. Whatever sins I, you, all of us have committed or shall commit, they are Christ’s sins as if he had committed them himself. Our sins have to be Christ’s sins or we shall perish forever.
What a relief for a Christian to know that Christ is covered all over with my sins, your sins, and the sins of the whole world.
The sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, fastened themselves on Christ and condemned him. But because Christ is God, he had an everlasting and unconquerable righteousness. These two, the sin of the world and the righteousness of God, met in a death struggle. Furiously the sin of the world assailed the righteousness of God. Righteousness is immortal and invincible. On the other hand, sin is a mighty tyrant who subdues all men. This tyrant pounces on Christ. But Christ’s righteousness is unconquerable. The result is inevitable. Sin is defeated, and righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.
In the same manner was death defeated. Death is emperor of the world. He strikes down kings, princes, all men. He has an idea to destroy all life. But Christ has immortal life, and life immortal gained the victory over death. Through Christ death has lost its sting. Christ is the death of death. The curse of God waged a similar battle with the eternal mercy of God in Christ. The curse meant to condemn God’s mercy. But it could not do it because the mercy of God is everlasting. The curse had to give way. If the mercy of God in Christ had lost out, God himself would have lost out, which, of course, is impossible.
When we hear that Christ was made a curse for us, let us believe it with joy and assurance. By faith, Christ changes places with us. He gets our sins; we get his holiness.
Whenever sin and death make you nervous, write it down as an illusion of the devil. There is no sin now, no curse, no death, and no devil because Christ has done away with them.
Let this be the first and most important point, that all our prayers must be based and rest on obedience to God, irrespective of our person, whether we are sinners or saints, worthy or unworthy. And we must know that God will not treat it like a joke but be angry and punish all who do not pray, as surely as he punishes all other disobedience. Beyond this, he will not suffer our prayers to be in vain or lost. For if he did not intend to answer your prayer, he would not bid you pray and add such a severe commandment to it. In the second place, we should be the more urged and incited to pray because God has also added a promise and declared that it shall surely be done to us as we pray, as he says [in] Psalm 50:15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” And Christ in the Gospel of St. Matthew 7:7–8: “Ask, and it will be given to you. . . . For everyone who asks receives.” Such promises ought certainly to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight, since he testifies with his [own] word that our prayer is heartily pleasing to him, moreover, that it shall assuredly be heard and granted, in order that we may not despise it or think lightly of it and pray at a venture.
But how does [the name of God] become holy among us? The plainest answer can be given as [this]: When both our doctrine and life are godly and Christian. For since in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty always to conduct ourselves as godly children, that he may receive not shame but honor and praise from us. Now the name of God is profaned by us either in words or deed. (For whatever we do on the earth must be either words or deeds, speech or act.) In the first place, then, it is profaned when men preach, teach, and speak in the name of God what is false and misleading so that his name serves as a means to adorn and to make acceptable their falsehood. Indeed, that is the greatest profanation and dishonor of the divine name. Furthermore, [the name of God is profaned] also when men, by swearing, cursing, conjuring, etc., grossly abuse the holy name as a covering for their shame.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible