The Carey Conference this year began, as tradition dictates, with a biographical paper.This year is the five hundredth anniversary of the nailing up of his 95 Theses so we will hearing a lot about him. Our speaker Paul Gibson focused on Luther as a great reformer who was a man marked by weakness.
He gave us a nice outline as follows
1. God's mighty work through Luther
- From miner's son to teacher in the church
- Thrust into the spotlight
- Breakthrough on the righteousness of God
- Standing for the work of God
- Holding together a growing movement
2. Luther's experience of weakness in the Christian life
- Sin and moral failures (His condoning of Philip of Hesse's bigamy; his attitude to the Jews)
- Suffering (loss of children, etc)
3. Luther's understanding of weakness in the Christian life
- The role of the sinful nature
- The role of the devil
- The role of God
Then followed material on
(1) Two types of theologian - of glory, of the cross (Heidelberg Disputation)
1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
2. Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
3. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
4. Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.
16. The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.
18. It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.
(2) The God who hides himself in weakness and suffering
19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the »invisible« things of God as though they were clearly »perceptible in those things which have actually happened« (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25),
20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
Proof: The manifest and visible things of God are placed in opposition to the invisible, namely, his human nature, weakness, foolishness. The Apostle in 1 Cor. 1:25 calls them the weakness and folly of God. Because men misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognised in suffering, and to condemn "wisdom concerning invisible things" by means of "wisdom concerning visible things" so that those who did not honour God as manifested in his works should honour him as he is hidden in his suffering (absconditum in passionibus). As the Apostle says in 1 Cor. 1:21, "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe." Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognise God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognises him in the humility and shame of the cross.....
(3) Calling things what they really are
21. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
Proof: This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers ,works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his »good works« unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God's.
4. Luther's medicine for weakness in the Christian life
- We need to expect weakness
- We need weakness!
- We need a realistic view of ourselves
- We need to look away from ourselves
- We need to look away from ourselves to Christ and him crucified
- We need the sacraments
- We need God's Word: law and gospel
- We need justification by faith alone
*The German term is not easy to translate, because of the overtones now associated with it: ‘assault’ is probably more illuminating than ‘temptation’, although the latter is more accurate. For Luther, death, the devil, the world, and Hell combine in a terrifying assault upon man, reducing him to a state of doubt and despair. (Luther’s Theology of the Cross, McGrath, 170)