Justus Jonas (1493-1555): If God were not upon our side…

 

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Justus Jonas (1493-1555) was a professor of theology and a colleague of Martin Luther at Wittenberg. Jonas was influential in a number of disciplines, not least in Lutheran hymnody, where he helped Luther in preparing German metrical versions of the Psalms, choosing by preference, as one can well understand given the times in which he lived, those which speak of David’s sufferings from his enemies, and his trust in God’s deliverance. At the request of Luther, he wrote the following hymn in 1524, a paraphrase of Psalm 124 titled Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, translated below into English by Catherine Winkworth:

 

If God were not upon our side

When foes around us rage,

Were not Himself our Help and Guide

When bitter war they wage,

Were He not Israel’s mighty Shield,

To whom their utmost crafts must yield,

We surely must have perished.

 

But now no human wit or might

Should make us quail for fear,

God sitteth in the highest height,

And makes their counsels clear;

When craftiest snares and nets they lay,

God goes to work another way,

And makes a path before us.

 

In wrathful pride they rage and mock

Against our souls in vain:

As billows meet with angry shock

Out on the stormy main,

So they our lives with fury seek;

But God hath pity on the weak,

And Him they have forgotten.

 

They call us heretics, and lie

In wait to spill our blood;

Yet flaunt their Christian name on high,

And boast they worship God.

Ah God! that precious name of Thine

O’er many a wicked deed must shine,

But Thou wilt once avenge it.

 

They open wide their ravenous jaws

To swallow us indeed,

But thanks to God, who rules our cause,

They shall not yet succeed:

Their snares He yet will bring to nought,

And overthrow what they have taught;

God is too mighty for them.

 

How richly He consoleth those

Who have no other friend!

The door of grace doth never close;

Sense cannot comprehend

How this may be, and deems all lost,

When through this very cross a host

Of champions God is raising.

 

Our foes, O God, are in Thy hand,

Thou knowest every plot;

But only give us strength to stand,

And let us waver not,

Though Reason strive with Faith, and still

She fear to wholly trust Thy will,

And sees not Thy salvation.

 

But heaven and earth, O Lord, are Thine,

By Thee alone were made,

Then let Thy light upon us shine,

O Thou our only aid!

Kindle our hearts to love and faith

That shall be steadfast e’en to death,

Howe’er the world may murmur!

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680): What condescending love is this! Oh! What a Christ is this!

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“Doth the Lord give the best and greatest gifts to His people? Then you that are His people, sit down and wonder at this condescending love of God.

Oh! What is in thy soul or in my soul, that should cause the Lord to give such gifts to us as He hath given? We were all equal in sin and misery; nay, doubtless, we have actually outsinned thousands, to whom these precious gifts are denied.

Let us therefore sit down and wonder at this condescending love of God.

Oh! We were once poor wretches sitting upon the dunghill, yea, wallowing in our blood, and yet behold the King of kings, the Lord of lords, hath so far condescended in His love, as to bestow Himself, His Spirit, His grace, and all the jewels of His royal crown upon us.

Oh! What heart can conceive, what tongue can express, this matchless love! ‘I will be thine forever,’ says Christ, and ‘My Spirit shall be thine forever,’ and ‘My grace shall be thine forever,’ and ‘My glory shall be thine forever,’ and ‘My righteousness shall be thine forever.’ ‘All I am and all I have, shall be thine forever.’

O sirs! What condescending love is this! Oh! What a Christ is this!”

- Thomas Brooks (1608-1680), The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Works, Vol. III, p. 117

John Newton (1725-1807) on God’s will and our ambitions

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“It is indeed natural for us to wish and to plan, and it is merciful of the Lord to disappoint our plans and to cross our wishes. For we cannot be safe, much less happy, except in proportion as we are weaned from our own wills, and made simply desirous of being directed by His guidance. This truth (when we are enlightened by His Word) is sufficiently familiar to the judgment; but we seldom learn to reduce it to practice without being trained awhile in the school of disappointment. The schemes we form look so plausible and convenient that when they are broken we are ready to say: ‘What a pity!’ We try again, and with no better success. We are grieved, and perhaps angry and plan out another, and so on. At length, in the course of time, experience and observation begin to convince us that we are not more able than we are worthy to choose aright for ourselves. Then the Lord’s invitation to cast our cares upon Him and His promise to take care of us appear valuable; and when we have done planning, His plan in our favour gradually opens, and he does more and better for us than we could either ask or think.

I can hardly recollect a single plan of mine of which I have not since seen reason to be satisfied that had it taken place in season and circumstance just as I proposed, it would, humanly speaking, have proved my ruin. Or at least it would have deprived me of the greater good the Lord had designed for me. We judge of things by their present appearances, but the Lord sees them in their consequences. If we could do so likewise, we should be perfectly of His mind; but as we cannot, it is an unspeakable mercy that He will manage for us, whether we are pleased with His management or not. And it is spoken of as one of his heaviest judgments when He gives any person or people up to the way of their own hearts and to walk after their own counsels.

Indeed, we may admire His patience towards us. If we were blind, and reduced to desire a person to lead us, and should yet pretend to dispute with him and direct him at every step, we should probably soon weary him, and provoke him to leave us to find the way by ourselves if we could. But our gracious Lord is long-suffering and full of compassion; He bears with our impertinence, yet He will take methods both to shame and to humble us, and to bring us to a confession that He is wiser than we. The great and unexpected benefit He intends us by all the discipline we meet with is to tread down our wills and bring them into subjection to His. So far as we attain to this we are out of the reach of disappointment, for when the will of God can please us we shall be pleased every day and from morning to night – I mean with respect to His dispensations.

O the happiness of such a life! I have an idea of it; I hope I am aiming at it, but surely I have not attained it. Self is active in my heart, if it does not absolutely reign there. I profess to believe that one thing is needful and sufficient, and yet my thoughts are prone to wander after a hundred more. If it be true that the light of His countenance is better than life, why am I solicitous about anything else? If He be all-sufficient and gives me liberty to call Him mine, why do I go a-begging to creatures for help? If the smallest as well as the greatest events in which I am concerned are under His immediate direction, if the very hairs of my head are numbered, then my care (any further than a care to walk in the paths of His precepts and to follow the openings of His providence) must be useless and needless – yea indeed sinful and heathenish, burdensome to myself and dishonourable to my profession. Let us cast down the load we are unable to carry, and if the Lord be our Shepherd, refer all and trust all to Him. Let us endeavour to live to Him and for Him today and be glad that tomorrow, with all that is behind it, is in His hands.

It is storied of Pompey that when his friends would have dissuaded him from putting to sea in a storm he answered, ‘It is necessary for me to sail, but it is not necessary for me to live.’ A pompous speech, in Pompey’s sense! He was full of the idea of his own importance, and would rather have died than have taken a step beneath his supposed dignity. But it may be accommodated with propriety to a believer’s case. It becomes us to say: ‘It is not necessary for me to be rich, or what the world accounts wise; to be healthy, or admired by my fellow-worms; to pass through life in a state of prosperity and outward comfort. These things may be, or they may be otherwise, as the Lord in His wisdom shall appoint. But it is necessary for me to be humble and spiritual, to seek communion with God, to adorn my profession of the Gospel, and to yield submissively to His disposal in whatever way, whether of service or suffering, He shall be pleased to call me to glorify Him in the world. It is not necessary for me to live long, but highly expedient that whilst I do live I should live to Him. Here then I would bound my desires; and here, having His word both for my rule and my warrant, I am secured from asking amiss. Let me have His presence and His Spirit, wisdom to know my calling, and opportunities and faithfulness to improve them; and as to the rest, Lord, help me to say, ‘What Thou wilt, when Thou wilt, and how Thou wilt’.”

- John Newton (1725-1807), The Letters of John Newton, Two Letters to Miss P, Letter I, August 17, 1767.

Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558): Sermon at the funeral of Martin Luther

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Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) was a friend and colleague of Martin Luther, who referred to him as Doctor Pomeranus. He served as a Protestant pastor in Wittenberg and was instrumental in introducing the Protestant Reformation to northern Germany and Scandinavia. Bugenhagen preached the sermon at Martin Luther’s funeral, posted below in full:

A Christian sermon over the body and at the funeral of the venerable Dr. Martin Luther, preached by Mr. Johann Bugenhagen Pomeranus, doctor and pastor 
of the churches in Wittenberg.

Paul, the holy apostle, says in I Thessalonians 4:

“We do not want to hold back, dear brothers, concerning those who are asleep so that you may not be sorrowful as the others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus has died and risen, even so, God will bring those with Him who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”

Dear friends, I am now supposed to preach a sermon at the funeral of our dearly beloved father, blessed Dr. Martin, and gladly do so. But what shall I say and how shall I speak, since I probably will not be able to utter a word because of my tears? And who shall comfort you if I, your pastor and preacher, cannot speak? Where can I turn from you? I will, no doubt, cause more crying and mourning with my sermon. For how should we not all mourn heartily, since God has sent us this sorrow and has taken from us the noble and dear man, the venerable Dr. Martin Luther? Through him God has rendered inexpressible gifts and grace to all of us and to all the churches of Christ in Germany, as well as to many in foreign countries. Through him God has also triumphed gloriously over the kingdom of Satan and against so much shameful idolatry and human ordinance, indeed, as Paul says, against the devil’s teachings throughout the world, and has revealed to us in the Gospel the sublime, great heavenly secret, his dear Son Jesus Christ (as Paul also says in Ephesians and Colossians). Through him, our dear father, Christ has defended his Gospel against the grievous pope and various rabble and tyrants, indeed, against all the portals of hell. He gave to this dear man the spirit of power and strength so that he is afraid of no one, however great and mighty he may be. He held so boldly to the Gospel and to pure doctrine that the world often believed that he was too sharp and too excessive with his rebuking and scolding, just as the Jews and Pharisees, the bitter and poisonous vipers, accused Christ, for it hurt them severely and caused them pain that they were chastised by means of the pure truth. However, they did not accept the salutary teaching.

God has taken away from us this great teacher, prophet, and divinely sent reformer of the church. Oh, how can we cease mourning and crying? How can we, after all, obey the dear Paul here when he says: “You should not grieve because of those who are asleep?” But he adds immediately: “Like the others who have no hope.” We who believe know that those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be awakened again to a better life where we will meet them again and be together with them eternally.

However, the world was not worthy to have this dear man of God any longer, to continue to slander and persecute him. Albeit, that same, ungrateful world received much good through this great man, especially that it has been freed from a variety of oppression and tyranny of the loathsome papacy. Therefore, many of the adversaries (who still have some wisdom and understanding) would have preferred that the dear man had continued to live for a long time.

This I have said initially, that we truly have great cause to mourn heartily since we have lost such a great and dear man. And truly (since this may help a bit) Christian kings, princes, and cities and all who have recognized the Gospel of truth mourn with us. Therefore, we do not mourn alone, but many thousands in Christendom mourn with us from time to time. It was not fitting that the current, grievous pope, the Cardinal of Mainz, or Duke Henry (all of whom he enraged mightily with the truth) should ever delight in the death of this man. And I hope that the adversaries will not delight in his death for long. For the person has indeed died in Christ, but the mighty, blessed, godly doctrine of this precious man still lives most powerfully.

For he was without doubt the angel concerning whom it is written in Revelation 14, who flew through the midst of heaven and had an eternal Gospel, etc., as the text says:

“And I saw an angel flying through the midst of heaven. He had an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who sit and dwell on earth, to all heathen and races and languages and nations. And he said with a loud voice: ‘Fear God and give him honor, for the time of his judgment has come. Worship the one who has made heaven and earth, the seas and the springs of water.’ And another angel followed and said: ‘She has fallen, she has fallen, Babylon, the great city, for she has made drunk all the heathen with the wine of her harlotry’.”

This angel who says, “Fear God and give him the honor,” was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, “Fear God and give him the honor,” are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel, through which all of Scripture is unlocked and Christ, our righteousness and eternal life, is recognized. To these two he has also added this passage (“the time of his judgment has come”) and has taught regarding proper prayer and invocation of God the heavenly Father in Spirit and in truth. As the angel also says in Revelation 14: “Worship the one who has made heaven and earth, etc.”

For after the teaching of this angel, another angel will follow, who will proclaim comfort to the sorrowful and persecuted church and the lightning and thunder of eternal judgment and condemnation against the adversaries, as, after all, the other angel said: “She has fallen; she has fallen, Babylon, the great city.” Therefore, the adversaries will not rejoice long over our sorrow, as Christ also says in John 16: “Your sorrow shall turn to joy.” For according to Revelation, the aforementioned fourteenth chapter, we see that this has happened before and still happens. If Revelation has some validity, then the other will, without doubt, follow.

But, oh, how do I ramble on so with my sermon in this time of our crying and sorrow? This is enough said about our rightful mourning, for we mourn justly that such a dear man, a proper bishop and shepherd of souls, has departed from us. But in this sorrow we should also rightly recognize God s grace and mercy to us and thank God that he has awakened for us through his Spirit this dear Dr. Martin Luther against the antichristian doctrines of the abominable, satanic pope and against the devil’s doctrines only one hundred years after the death of the holy John Hus (who was killed for the sake of the truth in the year 1415), just as John Hus himself prophesied before his death about a future swan. Hus means “goose” in the Bohemian language. “You are now roasting a goose,” (says John Hus), “but God will awaken a swan whom you will not burn or roast.” And as they shouted much against him, which he could not answer, he supposedly said: “After one hundred years I will answer you.” He has done that uprightly through our dear father, Dr. Luther, and has begun it precisely in the one-hundred-and-first year. Yes, we should thank God that he preserved this dear man for us and his churches in the violent disputes, in so many difficult conflicts, and that through him Christ has triumphed so often now for almost thirty years. To the Lord Christ be praise and honor in eternity. Amen.

But we should also rejoice with our dear father Luther that he left and departed from us to the Lord Christ in the highest apostolic and prophetic office in which he faithfully accomplished what he was commanded. For with Christ are the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and many to whom he preached the Gospel, all the holy angels, Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, that is, in the eternal joy of all believers. We will experience what this interim period until the Day of Judgment is like, as Paul says in Philippians 1:

“I desire to depart and to be with Christ”; and as Stephen also says in Acts: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; and Jesus to the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

For there is no doubt, just as the spirit of Christ was in the hands of the Father until the resurrection on Easter, since he said: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, etc.,” so will our spirits be in the hands of Christ until our resurrection. For that is the meaning of the words of Lazarus: “But now he is comforted while you are tormented.”

What kind of peace or comfort the believers have and what kind of anxiety or torment the unbelievers have in the meantime, until the day of judgment, we cannot say so precisely on the basis of Scripture. Scripture says that they are asleep, as Paul says in Thessalonians, “concerning those who are asleep.” However, just as in natural sleep the healthy rest in a sweet sleep and are thereby refreshed and become stronger and healthier, while the sick or the sorrowing and especially those who are in the terror or fear of death sleep with difficulty, with horrible dreams, and restlessly so that sleep is not rest for them but a more frightful, more desolate unrest than being awake, in the same way there is a difference between the sleep of the believers and the godless. But about this we cannot speak further or infer other than what the words of Scripture say.

Our dear father Dr. Martin Luther has now attained what he often desired. And if he were to return to us again now, he would reprimand our mourning and faint-heartedness with the word of Christ from John 16: “If you loved me you would rejoice because I go to the Father, and you would not begrudge me this eternal rest and joy.” Christ has conquered death for us. Why, then, are we afraid? The death of the body is for us a beginning of life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord, who has become for us a noble, precious sacrifice.

I still remember that when our honorable, dear father, Dr. Martin Luther, saw several depart sweetly in the confession of Christ, he said: “May God grant me that I may also depart so sweetly in the bosom of Christ and that the body may not be tormented with lengthy pains of death. But may God s will be done.”

Master Ambrosius Bernardus von Goterboch, my dear brother and a truly pious man who loved Christ, was here with us in Wittenberg at the university. For several days before his end he lay very weak and sick unto death, and yet God took from him the feeling of his sickness as if he were already in another life. He spoke with us how he wanted to come to us and be joyous with us. He did not know at all that he was so ill and had to die. He certainly did not see death. Therefore, he could not be afraid of death. Indeed, he was no longer in this life except when one spoke of Christ. Then he confessed freely from his heart the great grace and bliss that has been given to us by the heavenly Father in Christ, for he loved Christ and was in the habit of praying gladly and of calling on God the Father in Spirit and truth. If one then wanted to tell him soon thereafter (as one who had come to his senses) about his beloved wife, children, house, money, debt, etc., he was soon out of his senses again and as if in another world, (although he recognized us all and called us by name), spoke joyously, with laughter and charming jest, concerning other matters in such a manner that one, who was unaware of his delirium, might think that he was wholly well and had to lie in bed because of boredom, etc. But our dear Lord Jesus Christ took him out of this life to himself in this state of delirium and yet in the good confession of the Christian faith. Thus he was already dead to this world for several days before he died, for he knew nothing on this earth of which he needed to be concerned. Indeed, he was relieved of everything so that he also did not experience his sickness and was not concerned about his death. Indeed, he also did not see death. How, then, could he be afraid of sin and death?

Thus we saw in him plainly the word of Christ from John 8 which every believer experiences: “If someone keeps my word, that person will never see death.” For even if they do not all die so easily as this Ambrosius, but with great pain, as the Son of God himself died on the cross, yet when the dear hour comes, they see life and not death and all of them say: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In this way our Lord Jesus Christ took our dearly beloved father, Dr. Martin, to himself with such a blessed parting from this vale of tears. To God be praise and thanks eternally.

During the illness of Master Ambrosius, when I saw that he also did not sleep, I asked two medical doctors that they prepare a strong drink to help him sleep. They responded that this would be dangerous and that they might be given blame if something went wrong. I said: “I will be responsible even if he were to die. Give it to him in God’s name as a desperate act. Who knows, it might help.” The doctors gave him such a drink, but not as strong as I desired, for they were somewhat concerned. Then he fell into a mighty sleep so that he slept almost two hours. However, when he awoke he felt his pain and complained about it and spoke intelligibly to his wife about all sorts of urgent matters. But soon thereafter, after about an hour-and-a-half, he was again in his happy condition, as before. He was no longer aware of this world until he gave up his spirit to Christ a few days later.

I have now gladly recounted this blessed and joyous story about Master Ambrosius, our dear brother, for two reasons. First of all, that I might stop you dear ones a bit from your howling and crying, which have now rightly overtaken us. God has made us sad. May his grace comfort us again. Secondly, so that this story may be of help to us in the matter concerning which we are now speaking.

For this Master Ambrosius was Dr. Martin’s brother-in-law. Therefore, Dr. Martin visited him so much in his illness, and when he spoke with him about Christ, then Ambrosius also spoke about Christ according to the dear Gospel, as we have said. But when he wanted to speak to him about his wife, children, and goods, etc., Ambrosius knew nothing about such things but soon fantasized happily with unrelated words, as we have said before. He especially said to the Doctor with laughter and thanksgiving: “Sir Doctor, thank you for visiting me. I will visit you again some evening. At that time we will have a good supper together, and I will then speak with you about many joyous matters.” Indeed, they may both be accomplishing this in the life eternal to which they have both traveled. In this life they were unable to meet in this way.

After Dr. Martin left him, the Doctor said to me: “He is gone and does not recognize death. When we want to counsel him how he should put his things in order, he no longer knows anything about this world and this life. Rather, he is happy, laughs, and proposes other things in his joyous delirium. He even mocks us with such words, as if he wanted to say: I no longer know what to set in order or attend to on earth. May God also give me soon such a peaceful and blessed hour of death. What more should I accomplish on earth?”

After Master Ambrosius was buried in the harsh winter of January, 1542, Dr. Martin went to the grave with me not long thereafter. Then he pointed to the grave with his hand and said: “He did not know that he was sick. He also did not know that he was dying and yet was not without a confession of Christ. Here he lies and still does not know that he is dead. Dear Lord Jesus, Christ, take me also in similar fashion out of this vale of tears to you, etc.”

I often had to hear such things from my dear father, and when he noticed my annoyance, at times probably also from my words, he said to me: “Implore our dear Lord God that He may soon take me to Himself from here. I can do nothing more on earth. I am no longer of use to you. Help me with your prayer. Do not ask that I live longer.” Now, everyone can, no doubt, imagine how I responded to such words of my dear father, our dearly beloved Doctor. All of this indicates how eagerly he desired, in his last days, to be rid of this miserable life and to be with Christ. Thereby he also sang his consummatum est and commended his spirit into the heavenly Father’s hands.

There were also advance indications that our dear father, Dr. Martin, would wander into a better life, for throughout this whole year he often said to us that he desired to go to another place. He also traveled more in this year before his death than he had done in many years, namely to his homeland in Mansfeld, to the Bishop of Zeitz, to Merseburg, to Halle. These were an indication and prophecy that he would undertake this blessed journey into a better life. Therefore, it also happened that he departed and left this life while he was with the noble and honorable Counts of Mansfeld in the city of Eisleben, where he was born and baptized. This was as he had desired, except that he would have preferred to be with us at that time, with his wife and children. But God ordained it otherwise.

Dear friends, so that you might also have a short report about our dearly beloved father, Dr. Martin’s, blessed parting, I will give it. When he noticed that his hour had come, he prayed thusly:

“O my heavenly Father, one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, God of all comfort, I thank you that you have revealed to me your dear Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I believe, whom I have preached and confessed, whom I have loved and praised, whom the loathsome pope and all the godless revile, persecute, and blaspheme. I implore you, my Lord Jesus Christ, let my little soul be commended to you. O heavenly Father, although I must leave this body and be snatched away from this life, I am, nevertheless, certain that I will remain with you eternally and that no one can tear me out of your hands.”

And then he said three times:
“Into your hands I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, you faithful God.”

Also John 3:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that all who believe in him will not be lost but have eternal life.”
Then he folded his hands and gave up his spirit to Christ in grand silence. Therefore we should also justly rejoice with him, as much as we are able to do so in our grief.

Here I must remember the holy Bishop, St. Martin, concerning whom history says that all heretics turned pale and faded at the mention of his name. Furthermore, there was a great crying and mourning on the part of all believing and true Christians at the death of St. Martin. Furthermore, a dispute and quarrel arose among several cities and territories about who should retain the body of St. Martin and where he should be buried. All of this happened in similar fashion with this holy apostle and prophet of Christ, our preacher and evangelist in the German territories, Dr. Martin. But about this I do not want to speak at length. God himself now holds him precious and beloved and sustains him in his bosom who in this life dearly loved us and the churches of Christ. May God requite it to our dearly beloved father in the life to come, where we all also hope to join him.

May God grant that the Spirit of God may also be spoken of doubly with regard to the descendants and in the churches planted by the dear father than was spoken of by the lofty, dear man, as the prophet Elisha petitioned from Elijah, who was taken from Elisha in a storm.

But if we fear or imagine that God has taken away the precious man because of our sin and ingratitude, then we should improve our life, petition God our heavenly Father through Christ that we remain in the blessed, pure teaching concerning faith and be protected through Christ from the rabble and tyrants and against all the portals of hell. Protect your poor Christendom, Lord Christ, that it may praise you eternally. Help us God our Savior and rescue us for the honor of your name and have mercy on our sins for the sake of your holy name. Preserve in your church faithful and good preachers. Give them power and strength through the Holy Spirit, as Psalm 68 says: “The Lord gives the Word with large numbers of evangelists.”

The impudent, atrocious, great blasphemies of the adversaries and the obdurate priests and monks and, in addition, our ingratitude may now well be the cause of great misfortune and God’s punishment in the world. But we should petition God the Father in the name of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that for his name’s sake he may accomplish, fulfill, and bring about the epitaph and prophecy that our dear father, Dr. Martin, himself made to him:

Pestis eram vivus, moriens tua mors ero Papa.

That is in German: “Pope, pope, when I lived I was your pestilence. When I die I will be your bitter death.” God be praised eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray, etc.

Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109): Is it proper for God to put away sins by compassion alone, without any payment of debt?

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Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) systematically set forth his argument for the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation and atoning death in his famous book Cur Deus Homo? A common misconception people have about God’s forgiveness is that He forgives purely out of love and compassion, without any regard to the demands of justice. But God’s justice and mercy are not antithetical; indeed we may receive God’s mercy precisely because of God’s justice against our sins having been satisfied on our behalf in the atonement of Christ. He is both just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus (Rom. 3:36). Below, in dialogue with Boso (abbot of Bec), Anselm addresses this common misconception. The excerpt is from Cur Deus Homo, Book I, Chapter XII:

CHAPTER XII.

Whether it were proper for God to put away sins by compassion alone, without any payment of debt.

Anselm. Let us return and consider whether it were proper for God to put away sins by compassion alone, without any payment of the honor taken from him.

Boso. I do not see why it is not proper.

Anselm. To remit sin in this manner is nothing else than not to punish; and since it is not right to cancel sin without compensation or punishment; if it be not punished, then is it passed by undischarged.

Boso. What you say is reasonable.

Anselm. It is not fitting for God to pass over anything in his kingdom undischarged.

Boso. If I wish to oppose this, I fear to sin.

Anselm. It is, therefore, not proper for God thus to pass over sin unpunished.

Boso. Thus it follows.

Anselm. There is also another thing which follows if sin be passed by unpunished, viz., that with God there will be no difference between the guilty and the not guilty; and this is unbecoming to God.

Boso. I cannot deny it.

Anselm. Observe this also. Every one knows that justice to man is regulated by law, so that, according to the requirements of law, the measure of award is bestowed by God.

Boso. This is our belief.

Anselm. But if sin is neither paid for nor punished, it is subject to no law.

Boso. I cannot conceive it to be otherwise.

Anselm. Injustice, therefore, if it is cancelled by compassion alone, is more free than justice, which seems very inconsistent. And to these is also added a further incongruity, viz., that it makes injustice like God. For as God is subject to no law, so neither is injustice.

Boso. I cannot withstand your reasoning. But when God commands us in every case to forgive those who trespass against us, it seems inconsistent to enjoin a thing upon us which it is not proper for him to do himself.

Anselm. There is no inconsistency in God’s commanding us not to take upon ourselves what belongs to Him alone. For to execute vengeance belongs to none but Him who is Lord of all; for when the powers of the world rightly accomplish this end, God himself does it who appointed them for the purpose.

Boso. You have obviated the difficulty which I thought to exist; but there is another to which I would like to have your answer. For since God is so free as to be subject to no law, and to the judgment of no one, and is so merciful as that nothing more merciful can be conceived; and nothing is right or fit save as he wills; it seems a strange thing for us to say that be is wholly unwilling or unable to put away an injury done to himself, when we are wont to apply to him for indulgence with regard to those offences which we commit against others.

Anselm. What you say of God’s liberty and choice and compassion is true; but we ought so to interpret these things as that they may not seem to interfere with His dignity. For there is no liberty except as regards what is best or fitting; nor should that be called mercy which does anything improper for the Divine character. Moreover, when it is said that what God wishes is just, and that what He does not wish is unjust, we must not understand that if God wished anything improper it would be just, simply because he wished it. For if God wishes to lie, we must not conclude that it is right to lie, but rather that he is not God. For no will can ever wish to lie, unless truth in it is impaired, nay, unless the will itself be impaired by forsaking truth. When, then, it is said: “If God wishes to lie,” the meaning is simply this: “If the nature of God is such as that he wishes to lie;” and, therefore, it does not follow that falsehood is right, except it be understood in the same manner as when we speak of two impossible things: “If this be true, then that follows; because neither this nor that is true;” as if a man should say: “Supposing water to be dry, and fire to be moist;” for neither is the case. Therefore, with regard to these things, to speak the whole truth: If God desires a thing, it is right that he should desire that which involves no unfitness. For if God chooses that it should rain, it is right that it should rain; and if he desires that any man should die, then is it right that he should die. Wherefore, if it be not fitting for God to do anything unjustly, or out of course, it does not belong to his liberty or compassion or will to let the sinner go unpunished who makes no return to God of what the sinner has defrauded him.

Boso. You remove from me every possible objection which I had thought of bringing against you.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691): There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline

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“7. There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline; each must be predominant, according to the quality or character of the person, or matter, that we have in hand. If there be no severity, our reproofs will be despised. If all severity, we shall be taken as usurpers of dominion, rather than persuaders of the minds of men to the truth.

8. We must be serious, earnest, and zealous in every part of our work. Our work requireth greater skill, and especially greater life and zeal than any of us bring to it. It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of the Redeemer. It is no easy matter to speak so plainly, that the most ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that the contradicting cavillers may be silenced. The weight of our matter condemneth coldness and sleepy dullness. We should see that we be well awakened ourselves, and our spirits in such a plight as may make us fit to awaken others. If our words be not sharpened, and pierce not as nails, they will hardly be felt by stony hearts. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all.

9. The whole of our ministry must be carried on in tender love to our people. We must let them see that nothing pleaseth us but what profiteth them; and that what doeth them good doth us good; and that nothing troubleth us more than their hurt. We must feel toward our people, as a father toward his children: yea, the tenderest love of a mother must not surpass ours. We must even travail in birth, till Christ be formed in them. They should see that we care for no outward thing, neither wealth, nor liberty, nor honor, nor life, in comparison of their salvation; but could even be content, with Moses, to have our names blotted out of the book of life, i. e. to be removed from the number of the living: rather than they should not be found in the Lamb’s book of life. Thus should we, as John saith, be ready to ‘lay down our lives for the brethren,’ and, with Paul, not count our lives dear to us, so we may but ‘finish our course with joy, and the ministry which we have received of the Lord Jesus.’ When the people see that you unfeignedly love them, they will hear any thing and bear any thing from you; as Augustine saith, ‘Love God, and do what you please.’ We ourselves will take all things well from one that we know doth entirely love us. We will put up with a blow that is given us in love, sooner than with a foul word that is spoken to us in malice or in anger. Most men judge of the counsel, as they judge of the affection of him that gives it: at least, so far as to give it a fair hearing. Oh, therefore, see that you feel a tender love to your people in your breasts, and let them perceive it in your speeches, and see it in your conduct. Let them see that you spend, and are spent, for their sakes; and that all you do is for them, and not for any private ends of your own. To this end the works of charity are necessary, as far as your estate will reach; for bare words will hardly convince men that you have any great love to them. But, if you are not able to give, show that you are willing to give if you had it, and do that sort of good you can. But see that your love be not carnal, flowing from pride, as one that is a suitor for himself rather than for Christ, and, therefore, doth love because he is loved, or that he may be loved. Take heed, therefore, that you do not connive at the sins of your people, under pretense of love, for that were to cross the nature and end of love. Friendship must be cemented by piety. A wicked man cannot be a true friend; and, if you befriend their wickedness, you show that you are wicked yourselves. Pretend not to love them, if you favor their sins, and seek not their salvation. By favoring their sins, you will show your enmity to God; and then how can you love your brother? If you be their best friends, help them against their worst enemies. And think not all sharpness inconsistent with love: parents correct their children, and God himself ‘chastens every son whom he receiveth.’ Augustine saith, ‘Better it is to love even with the accompaniment of severity, than to mislead by (excess of) lenity’.”

- Richard Baxter (1615-1691), The Reformed Pastor, p. 117-118

Lewis Bayly (c. 1565-1631): Meditations of the blessed state of a Regenerate Man in his Death

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Lewis Bayly (c. 1565-1631) is known primarily for his highly esteemed book The Practice of Piety: Directing a Christian how to walk, that he may please God, which was widely distributed in England through many editions and was also very influential elsewhere, being translated into Welsh, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Romansh, and the language of the Massachusetts Indians. Below is a short excerpt:

Meditations of the blessed state of a Regenerate Man in his Death

When God sends death as his messenger for the regenerate man, he meets him half-way to heaven, for his conversation and affection is there before him (Phil. iii. 20; Col. iii. 2) Death is never strange nor fearful to him: not strange, because he died daily—not fearful, because whilst he lived, he was dead, and his life was hid with Christ in God (1 Cor. i. 31; Col. iii. 3) to die, therefore, is to him nothing else in effect, but to rest from his labour in this world, to go home to his Father’s house, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant (Rev. xiv. 13; 2 Cor. v. 6; John xiv. 2; Heb. xii. 22, &c.). Whilst his body is sick, his mind is sound; for God maketh his bed in sickness, and strengthened him with faith and patience, upon his bed of sorrow (Psal. xli. 3). And when he begins to enter into the way of all the world, he giveth (like Jacob, Moses, and Joshua) to his children and friends, godly exhortations and counsels, to serve the true God, to worship Him truly all the days of their life (Gen. xlix). His blessed soul breatheth nothing but blessings, and such speeches as savour a sanctified spirit. As his outward man decayeth, so his inward man increaseth, and waxeth stronger; when the speech of his tongue faltereth, the sighs of his heart speak louder unto God; when the sight of the eyes faileth, the Holy Ghost illuminates him inwardly with abundance of spiritual light. His soul feareth not, but is bold to go out of the body, and to dwell with her Lord (2 Cor. v. 8). He sigheth out with Paul, Cupio dissolvi, “I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ,” (Phil. i. 23). And with David, “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Psal. xlii. 2). He prayeth with the saints, “How long, O Lord, which art holy and true?” (Rec. vi. 10). “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly,” (Rev. xxii. 10). And when the appointed time of his dissolution is come (Job xiv. 5), knowing that he goeth to his Father and Redeemer in the peace of a good conscience (Psal. xxxi. 5), and the assured persuasion of the forgiveness of all his sins, in the blood of the Lamb, he sings with blessed old Simeon his Nunc dimittis, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” (Luke ii. 29; Psal. xxxvii. 37; Isa. lvii. 2), and surrenders up his soul, as it were, with his own hands, into the hands of his heavenly Father, saying with David, “Into thy hands, O Father, I commend my soul, for thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, thou God of truth,” (Psal. xxxi. 5). And saying with Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Acts vii. 59); he no sooner yields up the ghost, but immediately the holy angels (Matt. xviii. 10; Acts xii. 15; xxvii. 23) who attended upon him from his birth to his death, carry and accompany his soul into heaven, as they did the soul of Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom (Luke xvi. 22), which is the kingdom of heaven, whither only good angels and good works do accompany the soul (Matt. viii. 11; Luke xiii. 28; Acts xv. 10, 11; Eph. i. 10; Heb. xi. 9, 10, 16; xii. 22, 23; Luke xix. 9; ix. 31), the one to deliver their charge (Psal. xci. 11; Heb. i. 14), the other to receive their reward (Rev. xiv. 13; xxii. 12).

The body, in convenient time, as the sanctified temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. vi. 19), the members of Christ (1 Cor. vi. 15), nourished by his body (Matt. xxvi. 26), the price of the blood of the Son of God (1 Cor. vi. 20; 1 Pet. i. 19), is by his fellow-brethren reverently laid to sleep in the grave as in the bed of Christ (1 Thess. iv. 14; Acts vii. 6; viii. 2), in an assured hope to awake in the resurrection of the just, at the last day, to be partaker, with the soul, of life and glory everlasting (Dan. xii. 2; John v. 28, 29; Luke xiv. 14; 1 Thess. iv. 16, 17; Rev. xiv. 13). And in this respect not only the souls, but the very bodies of the faithful also are termed blessed.