Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Created For His Glory

Posted: January 12, 2019 in Uncategorized



“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” 

(Isaiah 43:1, 3a & 7)

 Isaiah’s prophecy illustrates a sudden leap from reproach to consolation. This was very significant. It helped them to understand, that no meritorious work of their own would come in between what Israel was and what they were to be, but that it was God’s free grace which came to meet them.

The punishment of Israel has now lasted quite long enough; and, as God’s love which retreated behind His wrath, now returns with His own prerogatives again. To forgive His chosen people who will bear for Him their Messiah, and the Savior of the whole world.

God would continue to stretch out His arm it against the destructive power of the most hostile of Israel’s enemies, and rescue it from the midst of its greatest of dangers, Israel’s own rebellion and disobedience.

God says “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.” You and I have gone through many a trial, I am sure. We have been persecuted by people, those proud waves that go over us; then there are the temptations of Satan, that enemy who comes in like a flood, and many more. Because of how rapidly they come, how forceful the waves may be, and their overshadowing and overwhelming nature, we now see that there are waves through which we, the people of God, must pass through. Our way lies through these waves to eternal glory.

Even though some of these waves appear to go on forever, they have an end, as waves have, landing upon the shore. We have Jesus Christ as our example and guide, He gives sufficient strength to enable us to swim through them safely. God says these waves will not overtake us, so as to either cause our faith to utterly fail, or to separate us from the love of God. These waves will not destroy us; for though they come straight at us, and upon us, and may greatly affect and distress us, they will not hurt us. God causes them for our advantage. He is with us. Jesus Christ sympathizes with us, comforts and revives us. He teaches and instructs us in our afflictions. He sanctifies us [makes us holy], as well as supports and holds us up under them. Ultimately, He delivers us from them. When it feels like we are being pushed deep under the force of these waves, God’s hand reaches down into the depths, and lifts us up to safety.

God tells us, “When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” What is an affliction?  An affliction is something that causes great suffering and distress due to adversity. Isaiah compares afflictions to fire and flames. Illness, disease, or accidents can cause fear or anxiety by threatening us with great harm, or even death. Because of the fearful expectation or anticipation of God’s wrath upon Israel at times, and because of the nature of the afflictions, Israel found themselves refined just like gold and silver in the refiner’s fire. However, for the Christian, we saints are not consumed by these trials by fire, we lose nothing but our dross; those sinful behaviors along with their principles and proclivities are burned away, and God supports us through it all.

Andre Crouch wrote a song to help us understand what Isaiah is saying to us in today’s Old Testament reading, and it goes like this:

“I’ve had many tears and sorrows, I’ve had questions for tomorrow, there’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong. But in every situation, God gave me blessed consolation, that my trials come to only make me strong.

I’ve been to lots of places, I’ve seen millions of faces, there’s been times I felt so all alone. But in my lonely hours, yes, those precious lonely hours, Jesus let me know that I was His own.

Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.

I thank God for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys, I thank Him for the storms He brought me through. For if I’d never had a problem, I wouldn’t know God could solve them, I’d never know what faith in His Word could do.

Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

So, dear friends, the promises of God’s Word are true. It is Good News that God loves you. That He gave His only begotten Son for you. That Jesus took upon Himself our sin, sickness, and shame. That Jesus defeated death and the devil by His death. That He bore the wrath of God on our behalf. That He experienced separation from God on our behalf. He paid the price for our redemption. He made perfect and complete atonement for our sins. He is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the World.

Isaiah was painting a picture of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and holiness. Isaiah was telling Israel that even though they were disobedient and continually rebellious, God was patient and full of mercy toward them. He was compassionate toward Israel because of His divine purpose in sending the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would redeem Israel from their bondage to sin, sickness, death and the devil. The Word became flesh and lived among us. He sent His Messiah to save everyone, not just the Jew, but the Gentile too. His name is Jesus. God created human beings for His glory. However, the glory of humanity became tarnished because of our sin. Now, God’s glory will be seen and experienced by all because of what He has accomplished through Jesus Christ.

This is what Isaiah is saying to us today. He was looking beyond the closest prophetic mountain to Mount Zion, where the Messiah would Rule and Reign as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the Almighty God!


Spiritual Deception

Posted: May 5, 2018 in Uncategorized


There is a Slavonic word which has come into English usage as “prelest” for lack of a precise equivalent, although it is often translated as “spiritual delusion,” “spiritual deception,” or “illusion,” accepting a delusion for reality in contrast to spiritual sobriety. Prelest carries a connotation of allurement in the sense that the serpent beguiled Eve by means of the forbidden fruit.  Here prelest is defined in greater depth and explained the two ways in which it is applied.

Spiritual deception is the wounding of human nature by falsehood. Spiritual deception is the state of all men without exception, and it has been made possible by the fall of our original parents. All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. We are all deceived, all deluded; we all find ourselves in a condition of falsehood; we all need to be liberated by the Truth. The Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ (John 8:32-14:6). Let us assimilate that Truth by faith in it; Let us cry out in prayer to this Truth, and it will draw us out of the abyss of demonic deception and self-delusion. Bitter is our state! It is that prison from which we beseech that our souls be led out, that we may confess the name of the Lord (Ps. 141:8). The enemy that hates and pursues us has cast our life into that gloomy land. It is that carnal-mindedness (Rom. 8:6) and knowledge falsely so-called (I Tim. 6:20) wherewith the entire world is infected, refusing to acknowledge its illness, insisting, rather, that it is in the bloom of health. It is that “flesh and blood” which “cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”(I Cor. 15:50). It is that eternal death which is healed and destroyed by the Lord Jesus, Who is “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). Such is our state. In addition, the perception thereof is a new reason to weep. With tears, let us cry out to the Lord Jesus to bring us out of prison, to draw us Forth from the depths of the earth, and to wrest us from the jaws of death! “For this cause did our Lord Jesus Christ descent to us, because He wanted to rescue us from captivity and from most wicked spiritual deception.”

The means whereby the fallen angel brought ruin upon the human race was falsehood (Gen. 3:13). For this reason did the Lord call the devil “a liar, and the father of lies…, a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). We see that the Lord closely associated the notion of falsehood with the notion of murder; for the latter is the inevitable consequence of the former. The words “from the beginning” indicate that from the very start the devil has used falsehood as a weapon in murdering men, for the ruination of men. The beginning of evil is in the false thought.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)

The source of self-delusion and demonic deception is the false thought. By means of falsehood, the devil infected humanity at its very root, our first parents, with eternal death. For our first parents were deceived, i.e., they acknowledged falsehood as the truth, and having accepted falsehood in the guise of truth, they wounded themselves incurably with mortal sin, as is attested by our ancestor Eve, when she said: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). Thenceforth, voluntarily, or involuntarily, our nature, infected with the poison of evil, inclined toward evil that, to our perverted will, distorted reason, and debauched heart, presents itself as good. There remains within us a remnant of the freedom to choose between good and evil. That remnant of freedom does not function as complete freedom, but rather under the unavoidable influence of the wound of sin. Thus is every human born and cannot be otherwise; and for this reason we all, without exception, find ourselves in a state of self-delusion and demonic deception. From this view of man’s state with regard to good and evil, the state that is necessarily characteristic of each human being, we arrive at the following definition of spiritual deception, which explains it satisfactorily: spiritual deception is man’s assimilation of a falsehood that he accepts as truth.

From the time of man’s fall, the devil has had free access to him. The devil is entitled to this access, for; through disobedience to him, man has voluntarily submitted to his authority and rejected obedience to God. However, God has redeemed man. To the redeemed man He has given the freedom to submit either to God or to the devil; and that this freedom may manifest itself without any compulsion, the devil has been permitted access to man. It is quite natural that the devil makes every effort to keep man in his former subjection to him, or yet to enslave him even more thoroughly. To achieve this, he implements his primordial and customary weapon–falsehood. He strives to deceive and delude us, counting on our state of self-delusion. He stimulates our passions, our sick inclinations. He invests their pernicious demands with an attractive appearance and strives to entice us to indulge them. However, he that is faithful to the Word of God will not permit himself to do so; through faith he will restrain the passions and thus repulse the enemy’s assaults (see James 4:7); struggling against his own self-deception under the guidance of the Gospel, subduing his passions, and thus gradually destroying the influence of the fallen spirits on himself, he will through faith pass from the state of deception to the realm of truth and freedom (see John 8:32), the fullness of which will be given through the overshadowing of divine grace. He that is not faithful to Christ’s teaching, who follows his own will and knowledge, will submit to the enemy, and will pass from a state of self-deception into a state of demonic deception, will lose the remnant of his freedom, and in the end he will become totally enslaved to the devil.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  1 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV)



Remembering the stain…

Posted: April 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

I remember the stain
at times it doesn’t seem right
to recall what marred my walk in light
it cannot be removed
so much of life reviewed
in my minds eye

I remember the stain
i cannot clean it
even the rushing tide
sweeping away foot prints over and again
cannot remove it

I remember the stain
of idolatry, rebellion, amd caustic choices
trying to reign over me
why do I remember?

I remember the stain
even though i can still see it
has been washed in blood deep red
where my Father sees me white as snow
where no stain is left to judge me rightly
where no bondage there to bind me tightly
where freedom rings so very brightly
at the dawn of His appearing
He remembers no stain at me leering

I remember the stain
maybe at my minds random recollection
to remind once more the souls misdirection
at one time I knew not
the Deliverer from before
to grasp again His winsome words
Nor do I condemn you, go and sin no more…

By Gary DeSha © 2018


At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.


To be Lutheran – My Journey

My journey of faith has been an experience with the different expressions of Christianity. I have been told I am pan-denominational. My first experience was with the Baptist church, then United Methodist, then Pentecostal and Charismatic, then Evangelical Episcopal, then the Eastern Orthodox, then Reformed, and now Lutheran. God, it seems to me, has brought me around 180 degrees, and blessed me with an understanding of the reason for the Reformation, and why Martin Luther had to speak up and demand very important changes within the Roman Catholic Church. Being Lutheran for me, began while studying Lutheranism after being called to a Lutheran Church as an assistant pastor for family and youth. I bought a copy of “Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions” and dove in the deep end.

To be Lutheran and the Word of God

To me, being Lutheran means you love the Word of God. Being Lutheran means that the Word of God is central to life and faith. To be Lutheran means to appreciate how Martin Luther read Holy Scripture at face value and allowed Scripture to interpret itself for the most part. This led me to read and study the Scripture from a different hermeneutic than I had used before. The Bible was opened to me in a totally different light. To be Lutheran means I believe in the divine inspiration, infallibility, authority, inerrancy of the Bible as the Word of God. Reading Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechism’s helped me understand how much he relied upon the promises of God in His Word for every aspect of his life. Being Lutheran and the Word of God being central, not only opened my eyes theologically, but opened them regarding family, marriage, society, the Church, and my neighbor; it was like a new light was shed upon my Christian experience. In being Lutheran, you stand apart from the other expressions of Christianity.

To be Lutheran and the Sacraments

To be Lutheran means that the Lord’s Supper is spiritual nourishment, the forgiveness of sins, and what we eat and drink is the true Body and Blood of our Lord. To be Lutheran is to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. To be Lutheran means we enjoy the fellowship we have with one another around the Lord’s Table. To be Lutheran means that I understand that I have been born again by water and the Holy Spirit. I have been washed with water and the Word. Because of God’s kindness and tender mercies, He has saved me with the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. To be Lutheran means I remember the promises of God in His Word; those promises are given in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and they bring peace, joy, comfort, and solace to my heart.

To be Lutheran Is to Believe, Teach, and Confess

To be Lutheran means that what we believe, teach, and confess is God’s Word. To be Lutheran means what we believe comes from the Bible. Lutherans preach and teach the Bible. Lutherans have written down what they believe the Bible teaches as confessions of faith. The Book of Concord which contains the Lutheran Confessions is the result of this Lutheran biblical faith. Lutherans also believe that the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed are descriptors of the biblical faith in which we believe. Being Lutheran is understanding the distinction between Law and Gospel. This has been a hallmark in my study of Lutheranism. The Law tells me I’m a sinner and deserve God’s wrath. The Gospel tells me I have been forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. Everything about salvation is all of God. The Law tells me I must be holy as God is holy. The Gospel tells me that I am holy based upon the righteousness that has been imputed to me, which is the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. To the Law, I’m a slave. To the Gospel, I am freed man. This is most certainly true.

To be Lutheran doesn’t mean you should be German, Norwegian or Swedish

To be Lutheran means so much more than one’s nationality. To be Lutheran means that I have been blessed with a spiritual legacy left by Martin Luther himself, and every other Lutheran that has come before me from whatever part of the world. To be Lutheran means that I am a part of a continual movement toward Reformation. To be Lutheran means that I believe in God’s Word, the Law and Gospel, and to proclaim and teach it so that other’s may inherit eternal life. No matter what class of individual you are, no matter what race or culture you come from, no matter if you are male or female, young or old, what it means to be a Lutheran is that God makes you His own, and you are justified by grace through faith alone.

To be Lutheran doesn’t mean you should be an American Lutheran

You see, to be Lutheran here in America means you are not a “Luther” Lutheran. American Lutheranism is full of relativism. So many directions, so many destinations, so many routes, so many liberals, and so much confusion. American Lutheranism is not consistent within itself. Martin Luther probably wouldn’t recognize most Lutherans of today. He would be shocked, mortified, and would probably rebuke its condition outrageously.

To be Lutheran means I do not fit into the American evangelical mold, and I do not fit into the American Lutheran mold, nor do I fit into any denominational mold for that matter.

All I have tried to do, my adult Christian life, is to find the truth in Holy Scripture and stick to it. However, most importantly, my desire is to be a disciple of Christ, a follower of Jesus — to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, and obey God’s Word — to be transformed by the Word and the Holy Spirit into the image of God’s Son, Jesus, and to be found a good and faithful servant of my Lord.

Am I an American Lutheran? No. However, if I were to be labeled, I would be a “Luther” Lutheran. I accept that label because I respect the changes Martin Luther vigilantly fought for against the Roman Catholic Church, and I respect what he taught, even though I may not agree with all of his theology.

What does matter is that I follow Jesus, obey His commandments, repent and confess my sins, love and worship God alone, love my neighbor as myself, be His witness, make disciples, and proclaim the Gospel. Isn’t that what Jesus called His disciples to do?


Why We Use The Lectionary

Posted: January 30, 2017 in Uncategorized


Why We Use the Lectionary

In general, a lectionary is a collection of readings from Holy Scripture. These readings are arranged according to the Church’s calendar and are intended to be read at the regular, weekly gathering of God’s people.

For the early Church, already in the fourth century, readings were gathered together for this purpose. Initially, the readings were arranged in a continuous fashion, with each Sunday’s texts picking up where the reading had concluded the previous week. For the festival half of the church year (Advent through Pentecost), readings were eventually assigned that reflected the theme of the day.

The use of a lectionary as a focus for worship ensures that our congregation, over time, will hear the various voices and lessons of Holy Scripture and not be captive to the favorite texts of this pastor.  Use of the Lectionary allows our congregation to learn from the whole of Holy Scripture, invites us to consider how multi-faceted and rich the message of Holy Scripture is, and prevents us from focusing only on the messages of Holy Scripture with which we are comfortable and so avoid the challenge that Holy Scripture brings.

This brings us to using the Revised Common Lectionary.

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is a three-year cycle of weekly lections (Holy Scripture lessons to be read in church). The RCL is built around the seasons of the Church Year, and includes four lections for each Sunday, as well as additional readings for major feast days. During most of the year, the lections are: a reading from the Hebrew Bible, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles, and a Gospel reading. During the season of Easter, the Hebrew Bible lection is usually replaced with one from the Acts of the Apostles.

The seasons of the Church Year reflect the life of Christ. Consequently, the Gospel lections for each Sunday provide the focus for that day. The other lections for a given day generally have a thematic relationship to the Gospel reading for that day, although this is not always the case.

Ordinary Time refers to two periods of time in the Christian liturgical year. The first period begins on Epiphany Day and ends on the day before Ash Wednesday; the second period begins on the Monday after Pentecost, the conclusion of the Paschal (Easter) season, and continues until the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.

For Ordinary Time, the (RCL) offers two sets of readings for the lessons from the Hebrew Bible. One set proceeds mostly continuously, giving the story of the Patriarchs and the Exodus in Year A, the Monarchial narratives in Year B, and readings from the Prophets in Year C. In the other set of readings for Ordinary Time, the readings from the Hebrew Bible are thematically related to the Gospel lections. We use the semi continuous readings or the thematic readings during Ordinary Time. They do not typically move back and forth between the two over the course of a single season.

The Gospel readings for each year come from one of the synoptic Gospels according to the following pattern:

Year A – Matthew

Year B – Mark

Year C – Luke

Readings from the Gospel of John can be found throughout year in the RCL.

Therefore, the Lectionary expands our scriptural literacy, encourages better preaching and worship planning, spurs us to wrestle with the human issues posed in the Holy Scriptures, guides our preparation for worship, provides the other churches in the community an important link for worshiping, praying, and working together, and calls us to remember and celebrate weekly the love of God as witnessed by us through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.




What Luther Really Said….

Posted: October 14, 2016 in Uncategorized



The most significant work of Martin Luther regarding the issues of God’s sovereignty in grace is his 1525 work, The Bondage of the Will. Written in response to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Diatribe on Free Will, the book remains the greatest of Luther’s works. When Luther contemplated answering Erasmus he was very aware that the issue centered around God’s eternal predestination. In May of 1522 he wrote to an anonymous addressee,

“I knew before that Mosellanus agreed with Erasmus on predestination, for he is altogether an Erasmian. I, on the contrary, think that Erasmus know less, or seems to know less, about predestination than the schools of the sophists have known. There is no reason why I should fear my own downfall if I do not change my opinion. Erasmus is not to be feared either in this or in almost any other really important subject that pertains to Christian doctrine. Truth is mightier than eloquence, the Spirit stronger than genius, faith greater than learning. As Paul says: ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than men.’ The eloquence of Cicero was often beaten in court by less eloquent men; Julian was more eloquent than Augustine. In summary: Truth conquers lying eloquence, even though it only stammers, as it is written: ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected strength to destroy the enemy and the avenger. . . .Yes, give my greetings to Mosellanus, for I don’t hold it against him that he follows Erasmus rather than me. Indeed, tell him to be boldly Erasmian. The time will come when he will think differently. Meanwhile, we must bear with the poor understanding of matters held by an excellent friend.”[26]

Luther at this time refused to write against Erasmus on his views, but rather decided to wait for Erasmus to initiate the debate. But from this it is clear that Luther understands the issues of disagreement between he and Erasmus as including the issue of predestination. He also here equates his position with those of Augustine, who was challenged by a more eloquent Julian.

Ultimately Erasmus did issue a challenge to Luther, under pressure from both his friends and enemies: A Diatribe on Free Will.[27]

Luther’s response was his The Bondage of the Will, in which he argues against Erasmus’ notion that the will of man must cooperate with the will of God in the reception of the gospel. As the title suggests, Luther responded that the will of man is bound in sin, and therefore __completely unable to cooperate__ with God. Therefore, the sovereign grace of God must be __the sole determining factor__ in the salvation of men.

Different opinions have been offered of this work, but it can hardly be denied that Luther’s claims are very boldly stated, as well as very Augustinian. Nonetheless, regarding Luther’s view of predestination, Lewis Spitz writes,

“St. Augustine was a high double predestinarian. . . .Luther found assurance in the belief that the faith of the elect was determined by God’s eternal counsel and did not depend upon man’s own weak will, but, except for some polemical passages in his treatise On the Bondage of the Will in which he overstated his own case, he left the question of why some were lost open. . . .”[28]

That Spitz makes this claim apart from any analysis of Luther is unfortunate, considering his good reputation as an historian. He here seems embarrassed for Luther by claiming he “overstated his own case.” While this is quite an admission regarding the contents of Luther’s work, Spitz’s editorialism is simply untrue.

Did the great author himself believe he had “overstated” his case? On the contrary, in 1537, writing to Wolfgang Capito concerning a plan to publish his complete works, he states, “I would rather see them [his books] devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except for perhaps the one On the Bound Will, and the Catechism.”[29]

It is clear that twelve years following its publication, Luther claimed the book as his most important, hardly as an overstatement of his case for predestination.

Furthermore, it would seem as though Luther held his “overstated” double predestinarian views not simply at the time of, or after, the publication of The Bondage of the Will, but years prior as well. In his Commentary on Romans, written around 1515, he wrote,

“All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned.[30]

While Spitz thinks that Luther generally held a single predestinarian view, Oxford scholar Alister McGrath takes quite a different view. In fact, McGrath is a scholar who seriously disagrees with the thesis of this paper: namely, that Luther held a consistently Augustinian view of predestination and did not part from it. McGrath concludes that Luther did indeed part ways from Augustine. He writes,

“[Luther’s] assertions that Wycliffe was correct to maintain that all things happen by absolute necessity, and that God is the author of all man’s evil deeds, have proved serious obstacles to those who wish to suggest that Luther was merely restating an Augustinian or scriptural position….Luther explicitly teaches a doctrine of double predestination, whereas Augustine was reluctant to acknowledge such a doctrine, no matter how logically appropriate it might appear.[31] In light of this quote McGrath certainly disagrees that Luther was a consistent Augustinian. McGrath actually reverses here the positions most Lutherans assume: that Augustine was the double predestinarian, while Luther taught single. Not so, claims McGrath, it is actually the very opposite!

This author would certainly take issue with McGrath in that it is his reading of Augustine that is questionable, but not his reading of Luther. However, that issue is not critical to the thesis of the present work. McGrath is correct, as shall now be demonstrated, that Luther’s work without question teaches double predestination.

Luther begins The Bondage of the Will, after addressing some introductory matters, with a most appropriate question: that is, the nature of the Sovereignty of God. Section IV of Chapter 2 is entitled, “Of the Necessitating Foreknowledge of God.” In this chapter Luther sets out to demonstrate and prove that all things are controlled directly by the counsel and will of God: what he calls “necessitating foreknowledge.” That is, “God foreknows nothing contingently, but. . .He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will.”[32]

Not only is this the case, but Luther also says that it is “fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians” to know and trust this sovereignty,[33] and where it is not known, “There can be no faith, nor any worship of God. To lack this knowledge is really to be ignorant of God – and salvation is notoriously incompatible with such ignorance.”[34]

His justification for saying this is quite simple: “If you hesitate to believe, or are too proud to acknowledge, that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust and rely on His promises?”[35] This logic is refreshingly carried through by Luther:

“If, then, we are taught and believe that we ought to be ignorant of the necessary foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God and the whole gospel fall to the ground completely; for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered, or impeded.”[36]

It is this foundational chapter in Luther’s work that provides the basis for the rest of his conclusions.

While Luther analyzes many different arguments, and exegetes hundreds of passages of Scripture, the Sovereignty of God is the fundamental truth by which his conclusions are reached.

It is from this that he continues by asserting God’s absolute control over man’s salvation through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It is from the Sovereignty of God that he also argues for God’s control over the reprobation of the wicked by means of sovereign control, working evil through them, and handing them over to their sins.

Luther argues against the Erasmian thesis of the cooperative will on the grounds that the human will is bound by sin as a result of the fall of man.

Erasmus fully realized the implications of Luther’s strong statement of God’s sovereignty. He writes that if this teaching of God’s sovereignty is proclaimed, “Who will try and reform his life?”[37]

Luther lashes back, “I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! God has no time for your practitioners of self-reformation, for they are hypocrites. The elect, who fear God, will be reformed by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unreformed.”[38]

Erasmus pushes the point: “Who will believe that God loves him?”

Luther stands his ground: “I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall perish without believing it, raging and blaspheming, as you describe them. So there will be some who believe it.”[39]

This is the central point Erasmus makes in his Diatribe, that God’s sovereignty should not be emphasized to the point that the freedom of man’s will is usurped.

Luther fires volley after volley, arguing that unless the sovereign God changes the heart of man, none shall accept the gospel. He writes:

“God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises [sic] that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone.”[40]

Thus Luther affirms the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. In this same passage, Luther also goes on to speak of those who are not elect, that is, the reprobate. He realizes that his theology will not allow him to speak only of the elect, but of the non-elect as well. He writes:

“Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death.”[41]

Thus Luther exhibits no qualms about following his theology to it’s logical conclusion.

Time and time again he makes this known. He uses the specific examples of Pharoah, Judas, and Esau to prove his case that God sovereignly, in the counsel of His own will, determined to harden and reprobate them. At this point it is best to allow Luther to express his own views.

“Here, God Incarnate says: ‘I would, and thou wouldst not.’ God Incarnate, I repeat, was sent for this purpose, to will, say, do, suffer, and offer to all men, all that is necessary for salvation; albeit He offends many who, being abandoned or hardened by God’s secret will of Majesty, do not receive Him thus willing, speaking, doing and offering. . . .It belongs to the same God Incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, though that will of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish. Nor is it for us to ask why He does so, but to stand in awe of God, Who can do, and wills to do such things.”[42]

“On your view [Erasmus], God will elect nobody, and no place for election will be left; all that is left is freedom of will to heed or defy the long-suffering and wrath of God. But if God is thus robbed of His power and wisdom in election, what will He be but just that idol, Chance, under whose sway all things happen at random? Eventually, we shall come to this: that men may be saved and damned without God’s knowledge! For He will not have marked out by sure election those that should be saved and those that should be damned; He will merely have set before all men His general long-suffering, which forbears and hardens, together with His chastening and punishing mercy, and left it to them to choose whether they would be saved or damned, while He Himself, perchance, goes off, as Homer says, to an Ethiopian banquet!”[43]

This passage remarkably demonstrates Luther’s purpose in The Bondage of the Will. Here he states that the entire problem with the theology of Erasmus is that it makes its case for free will by robbing God of His sovereignty.

The entire problem with Erasmus is that on his terms God would not mark out, predestine, and know those among the elect and reprobate.

A single predestinarian may at this point claim that God marks out and knows those whom he elects, but not the remaining number.

The simple question is then how God elects any in an informed manner? How does God know He has elected all He wants to elect? This is to say, that unless God marks out and knows both the elect and reprobate, His sovereignty as well as omniscience suffers. Thus, Luther chastises Erasmus for promoting a relinquishing of God’s sovereignty. He writes that Erasmus has been deceived by the “Mistress Reason”[44] and that

“Reason will insist that these are not the acts of a good and merciful God. They are too far beyond her grasp; and she cannot bring herself to believe that the God Who acts and judges thus is good; she wants to shut out faith, and to see, and feel, and understand, how it is that He is good and not cruel. She would certainly understand, were it said of God that He hardens none and damns none, but has mercy on all and saves all, so that hell is destroyed, and the fear of death may be put away, and no future punishment need be dreaded!”[45]

“[I]f God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas became a traitor of necessity, and it was not in the power of Judas or of any creature to act differently, or to change his will, from that which God had foreseen. It is true that Judas acted willingly, and not under compulsion, but his willing was the work of God, brought into being by His omnipotence, like everything else. . . .If you do not allow that the thing which God foreknows is necessarily brought to pass, you take away faith and the fear of God, you undermine all the Divine promises and threatenings, and so you deny Deity itself!”[46]

This is a strong statement in favor of maintaining God’s sovereign will over even evil events and actions such as Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus.

Luther understands the initial offensiveness of the doctrine he teaches, but holds that though it may be difficult, God must be reverenced and believed on the subject. He states, “Doubtless it gives the greatest possible offence [sic] to common sense or natural reason, that God. . .should of His own mere will abandon, harden and damn men.”[47

After admitting this to be a great stumbling block, even for him, he states that “None the less, the arrow of conviction has remained, fastened deep in the hearts of learned and unlearned alike. . .that if the foreknowledge and omnipotence of God are admitted, then we must be under necessity.”[48]

“You may be worried that it is hard to defend the mercy and equity of God in damning the undeserving, that is, ungodly persons, who, being born in ungodliness, can by no means avoid being ungodly, and staying so, and being damned, but are compelled by natural necessity to sin and perish; as Paul says: ‘We were all the children of wrath, even as others’ (Eph.2.3), created such by God Himself from a seed that had been corrupted by the sin of the one man, Adam. But here God must be reverenced and held in awe, as being most merciful to those whom He justifies and saves in their own utter unworthiness; and we must show some measure of deference to His Divine wisdom by believing Him just when to us He seems unjust.”[49]

It is here that two very important considerations must be addressed. Opponents of the doctrine of double predestination often object on the grounds that the doctrine makes God into an “arbitrary” being – having no just reason to choose one over another. The other is an objection that the doctrine makes God to be the author of evil. These two objections Luther himself addresses quite adequately.

Is it true that upon the basis of double predestination God becomes a creature of arbitrariness, not having a just reason for choosing one man over another? Why did God choose to harden some in their sins and not alter their evil wills? “This question touches on the secrets of His Majesty, where ‘His judgments are past finding out’ (cf. Rom.11.33). It is not for us to inquire into these mysteries, but to adore them.”[50] Luther surely recognizes an element of mystery in the doctrine of predestination, as did virtually all the Reformers. But Luther goes on to address the issue in a more satisfying manner.

The same reply should be given to those who ask: Why did God let Adam fall, and why did He create us all tainted with the same sin, when He might have kept Adam safe, and might have created us of other material, or of seed that had first been cleansed? God is He for Whose will no cause or ground may be laid down as its rule and standard; for nothing is on a level with it or above it, but it is itself the rule for all things. If any rule or standard, or cause or ground, existed for it, it could no longer be the will of God. What God wills is not right because He ought, or was bound, so to will; on the contrary, what takes place must be right, because He so wills it. Causes and grounds are laid down for the will of the creature, but not for the will of the Creator – unless you set another Creator over him![51]

Luther himself, in a skillful approach, answers the objection of arbitrariness. The ground upon which the objection must be brought is that God is bound to some greater rule of equity than His own infallible will. Luther articulates that the actual rule of equity God is bound to is His own will. That is, God does whatsoever pleases Him, and because it pleases Him, it is by definition equitable and right. While sometimes men may not understand fully the justice and righteousness of God’s ways, Luther explains that God’s ways are often mysterious to fallible and sinful men, and that He must be “reverenced and held in awe.”[52]

The second objection regarding double predestination stems ultimately from a misunderstanding of it. Many caricatures of the doctrine see God as electing and reprobating men in eternity past, with no reference to man as sinner, but merely as creature. Thus, when God reprobated men from eternity, he had to then set His plan into action by then creating them sinful, (that is, create their sin afresh) and actively incline their hearts to wickedness so that he could punish them eternally. This particular doctrine is best called symmetrical predestination, in that God reprobated in the same active fashion as he elects. That is, as God must create a new, righteous, heart in the elect man, God must also create a new, wicked heart in the reprobate man. Very few theologians, especially Reformers, held this particular view.

The view that Luther maintains is also the view of the other major Reformers, including John Calvin, as well as earlier St. Augustine and Johann Staupitz. This view may be called asymmetrical predestination, as it pictures God electing and reprobating in eternity past with reference to man as sinner, not as creature.

Therefore, when God had before him the entire human race, he viewed mankind as fallen.

This is why Luther constantly writes that God “damns the undeserving” as well as “elects the undeserving.”[53]

God, in His act of election and reprobation, saw both kinds of men as “undeserving.”

The implications of this are such that God had no need to create the reprobate with fresh evil in them, as if it were possible for Him to be the author of evil, but rather, His decree of reprobation was passive. God simply “passed over” the reprobate in the exercise of His saving mercy.

One may wonder how this differs from “single” predestination. Quite simply, in single predestination there is no “decree of reprobation,” while in asymmetrical double predestination there is, albeit a passive decree.[54]

It is the opinion of this paper that the positions of Martin Luther are in no way compatible with any scheme of “single” predestination.

Luther at every turn affirms the sovereignty of God in both election and reprobation, as well as in everything that comes to pass. That is, God’s sovereignty is the foundation upon which all his argument flows.

If the very candid statements by Luther so far are not enough to convince the skeptic, nowhere does Luther so skillfully defend the doctrine of double predestination as in the following (lengthy) passage:

“The Diatribe gathers its second absurdity from Mistress Reason – ‘human’ reason, so-called: to wit, that on my view blame must attach, not to the vessel, but to the potter, especially in view of the fact that He is a potter who creates this clay as well as moulds it. ‘Here (says the Diatribe) the vessel is cast into eternal fire, a fate which it in no way deserved, except that it was not under its own control.’ Nowhere does the Diatribe more openly betray itself than here. You hear it saying (in different words, admittedly, but with identical meaning) just what Paul makes the ungodly say: ‘Why doth He find fault? Who shall resist His will?’ This is what Reason cannot receive nor bear. This is what offended so many men of outstanding ability, men who have won acceptance down so many ages.”

“At this point, ___they demand that God should act according to man’s idea of right___, and do what seems proper to themselves – or else that He should cease to be God! . . . .Flesh does not deign to give God glory to the extent of believing Him to be just and good when He speaks and acts above and beyond the definitions of Justinian’s Code, or the fifth book of Aristotle’s Ethics! No, let the Majesty that created all things give way before a worthless fragment of His own creation! Let the boot be on the other foot, and the Corycian cavern fear those that look into it! So it is ‘absurd’ to condemn one who cannot avoid deserving damnation. And because of this ‘absurdity’ it must be false that God has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and hardens whom He will. He must be brought to order! Rules must be laid down for Him, and ___He is not to damn any but those who have deserved it by our reckoning___! In this way, Paul and his simile are satisfactorily answered; so Paul must presumably recall it, and allow that it has no force, and remodel it; because the Potter in question (this is the Diatribe’s explanation) makes the vessel unto dishonour on the grounds of merit preceding, just as He rejected some of the Jews by reason of unbelief, and received Gentiles by reason of their faith. But if God works in such a way as to regard merit, why do the objectors grumble and complain? Why do they say: ‘Why doth He find fault? Who resists His will?’ Why need Paul restrain them? For who is surprised, let alone shocked or inclined to object, if one is damned who deserved it? Moreover, what becomes of the power of the Potter to make what vessel He will, if He is controlled by merits and rules, and is not allowed to make as He would, but is required to make as He should?”

“….Suppose we imagine that God ought to be a God who regards merit in those that are to be damned. Must we not equally maintain and allow that He should also regard merit in those that are to be saved? If we want to follow Reason, it is as unjust to reward the undeserving as to punish the undeserving. So let us conclude that God ought to justify on the grounds of merit preceding; or else we shall be declaring Him to be unjust. One who delights in evil and wicked men, and who invites and crowns their impiety with rewards!”

“But then woe to us poor wretches with such a God! For who shall be saved? Behold, therefore, the wickedness of the human heart! When God saves the undeserving without merit, yes, and justifies the ungodly, with all their great demerit, man’s heart does not accuse God of iniquity, nor demand to know why He wills to do so, although by its own reckoning such action is most unprincipled; but because what God does is in its own interest, and welcome, it considers it just and good. But when He damns the undeserving, because this is against its interest, it finds the action iniquitous and intolerable; and here man’s heart protests, and grumbles, blasphemes. So you see that the Diatribe and its friends do not judge in this matter according to equity, but according to their passionate regard for their own interest.”

“….[I]f God who crowns the undeserving pleases you, you ought not be displeased when He damns the undeserving! If He is just in the one case, He cannot but be just in the other. In the one case, He pours out grace and mercy upon the unworthy; in the other, He pours our wrath and severity upon the undeserving; in both He transgresses the bounds of equity in man’s sight, yet is just and true in His own sight. How it is just for Him to crown the unworthy is incomprehensible now; but we shall see it when we reach the place where He will be no more an object of faith, but we shall with open face behold Him. So too, it is at present imcomprehensible how it is just for Him to damn the undeserving; yet faith will continue to believe that it is so, till the Son of Man shall be revealed.”[55]

The author of these words might well have drafted the Articles of Dordt, the Westminster Confession of Faith, or any other historic Calvinist creed. In this quote are found a summary of all that has been said thus far. Luther addresses every element: election (active), reprobation (passive), God’s justice (anti-arbitrariness), and God’s sovereignty.

The Modern Lutheran statement on predestination states that, “[We] reject that God does not want everybody to be saved, but that merely by an arbitrary counsel, purpose, and will, without regard for their sin, God has predestined certain people to damnation so that they cannot be saved.”[56]

Luther and every Calvinist would agree on at least one point: God’s counsels nor purposes are never arbitrary. They are righteous and good because God Himself makes them, and God does not reprobate without regard for their sin. God’s reprobation presupposes their sin.

Regarding God’s desire for all men to be saved, Luther himself objects. In response to the claim that ‘God desires all men to be saved,’ and that ‘Christ died for all men,’ he writes that:

“These points and others like them can be refuted as easily as the first one. For these verses must always be understood as pertaining to the elect only, as the apostle says in 2 Tim. 2:10 ‘everything for the sake of the elect.’ For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all, because he says: ‘This is my blood which is poured out for you’ and ‘for many’ – He does not say: for all – ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 14:24, Matt. 26:28)”[57]


Something has gone wrong in Lutheranism. It has been more than adequately shown that regarding the doctrine of the eternal predestination of God Martin Luther taught things directly contrary to the standards of Modern Lutheranism. Something very clearly happened in Lutheran doctrine between 1546 and 1580. In the span between Luther’s death and the Formula of Concord a radical shift came in “Lutheran” theology. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine exactly what did happen, enough has been said to demonstrate that something did indeed happen.

Luther never taught any such doctrine as “single” predestination. The concept was clearly very foreign to him, as it required the suspension of God’s sovereignty over the reprobation of man. Such a suspension to Luther was the “denial of Deity itself.”[58]

Luther understood that in terms of God’s predestination, the principle is indeed “double or nothing.” Either God is sovereign over all things which comes to pass, or He is not sovereign at all.

Modern Lutheranism, however, treats reprobation in an almost agnostic fashion. Recall the quote from Robert Hoerber: “[T]he ‘unreasonable’ doctrine of election to salvation (but not to damnation) is a particularly comforting part of the gospel message.”[59]

No explanation is given by Hoerber as to how it is possible (indeed, he admits that it is “unreasonable”) for God to maintain sovereignty over election yet not over reprobation.

One can almost anticipate Luther’s response that “the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered, or impeded.”[60]

Hoerber’s supposedly “comforting” single predestinarian view is thus rejected by Luther himself. Comfort is only drawn through faith in God’s sovereignty, not faith in His relinquishing of it.

Though Martin Luther and other Reformers like Calvin and Zwingli may have differed over many issues, such as the regulating principle of worship, the nature of the sacraments, the use of law in civil government, and the like, they never had a public disagreement over their respective doctrines of predestination.

In an age of controversy, this fact is quite remarkable, especially as the doctrine remains the most controversial of all doctrines. If one reads the doctrine as presented by the Reformers, a single, uniform, voice will be found: God is sovereign over heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, life and death.

The health of the church today requires re-thinking on the issue of God’s sovereignty. With semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism the norm rather than the exception in the modern church, the tough issues must once again be grappled with. There must be another reformation.

Perhaps this should start with a “rediscovery” of the doctrines of times long past. Perhaps there must be a revival of reading ancient documents and treatises to discover the secrets long obscured. The church must see its place in history through the light of the past. The author, however, does not speak now of that ancient light of St. Augustine, now dimmed and wearied with age. God continues to raise up new lights for the continual reformation of His church. The light now shining is not Augustine, but Martin Luther himself.

Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Soli Deo Gloria

For full article and references, see Brian G. Mattson’s “Double Or Nothing: Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Predestination