Friday, 20 July 2012

On Luther's Explanation of the Commandments


Here's a question an alert and observant confirmation student might ask: 

Q. Why does Luther explain the First Commandment as requiring us to "fear, love and trust in God above all things", whereas in his explanation of commandments two to ten he stipulates only that we "should fear and love God...". What happened to trust?    

A. The first commandment is foundational in that it requires our trust in God, which we also define as faith.

Such trust or faith is the root of obedience to the following nine commandments.

Thus, whenever we Christians "strive daily to live a holy life", using  the commandments as a guide to what pleases God, our willing obedience stems from our trust/faith in God.

Likewise, whenever we fall into actual sin by breaking God's commandments, the root of our disobedience is our lack of faith/trust in God. which is indeed "the original sin".

I therefore teach my confirmation students that when we sin, we always trespass against at least two commandments of God - the particular commandment we have broken in thought, word or deed, by things done or left undone, and the first commandment to have no other "gods" but God!

This is why, I go on to explain, people without true faith do not really please God with their "good works", as many mistakenly believe: without true faith, none of their good works merits anything towards salvation, although God may, out of grace, reward good works in this life with earthly goods - a good reputation, prosperity, a happy family life, and so on, although these rewards are, strictly speaking, undeserved.  

Consider Luther's own words from the Large Catechism in his conclusion of his explanation of the First Commandment from the Large Catechism:

"Let us, then, learn well the First Commandment, that we may see how God will tolerate no presumption nor any trust in any other object, and how He requires nothing higher of us than confidence from the heart for everything good, so that we may proceed right and straightforward and use all the blessings which God gives no farther than as a shoemaker uses his needle, awl, and thread for work, and then lays them aside, or as a traveler uses an inn, and food, and his bed only for temporal necessity, each one in his station, according to God's order, and without allowing any of these things to be our lord or idol. Let this suffice with respect to the First Commandment, which we have had to explain at length, since it is of chief importance, because, as before said, where the heart is rightly disposed toward God and this commandment is observed, all the others follow. "

16 comments:

Lvka said...

You left out the part about not worshipping any images: graven, or otherwise... :-)

Mark Henderson said...

Lutherans and Roman Catholics use the Augustinian version of the commandments, whereas Orthodox and Protestants use Philo's version. For Lutherans the command against graven images is included in the 1st commandment. Odd that having that commandment in their decalogue hasn't stopped Orthodox from making images and bowing to them ;0)

Lvka said...

It hasn't stopped Moses either...

Mark Henderson said...

You mean Aaron(?).

Lvka said...

No, I meant Moses.

Mark Henderson said...

How so?
Moses only bowed down before God (and his father-in-law).

Lvka said...

And where did God appear to Him? (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89).

Mark Henderson said...

OK. "He heard the voice speaking to him from 'between' the two cherubim 'above' the ark of the testimony."

Not the cherubim or the ark, but between and above them.

Lvka said...

What would've been Moses' physical posture when God spoke to him from between the two golden cherubim ?

Mark Henderson said...

But Lucian, Moses was bowing before God, not the carved images of the cherubim or the ark. There's a difference.

Lvka said...

But these sacred images, which God ordained to be made, were the mean He used to mediate His presence. And when that happened, bowing before them because of God's presence there came as a natural act of response.

Lvka said...

Depends what you mean by `before`. He was lying face-down `in front` of them, with his face directed `towards` them, where God appeared to him.

Mark Henderson said...

I wouldn't say the ark and cherubim were the means of God's presence, Lucian. They were rather the locus (place) of God's presence, or rather the space between and above them was. Of course, God can use created means thus - the burning bush and the cloud and pillar of fire would seem to be 'sacramental' means. The problem is not with that, nor with Moses prostrating himself, but with the Orthodox translating such Biblical examples to their use of icons and prostrating or venerating them without divine command.

Lvka said...

Does the problem really lie with what the Orthodox (and Catholics, and Monophysites, and Nestorians, and Martin Luther himself, for that matter) actually do... or rather with what most Protestants THINK that we do (despite the continuous usage of icons in worship throughout biblical and post-biblical times, in both early Judaism & historic Christianity) ?

Mark Henderson said...

Well, I think you'd have a very hard time proving your assertion about a continuous use of icons in Christian worship from Biblical times, Lucian.
But for argument's sake, let's assume the Orthodox doctrine that the veneration is paid to the saint and not the image (itself problematic, but nevertheless), why is it then that particular icons are attributed with miraculous powers, carried about and taken from country to country? That suggests that it is the icon, rather than the saint, who is being venerated - exactly what the commandment forbids.

Lvka said...

You could level the same charge at the wonders God did through the Ark of Covenant during OT times (eg, 1 Samuel 5:1-5).

Apart from the Mother of God, the most important saints [the ones that defended the faith against heresies at the great Ecumenical Councils, and/or wrote almost all of our prayers and services] are NOT great wonder-workers. And the ones that are, are NOT famous for being great theologians. Everyone has his or her own gift from God.

Why does God *mostly* work wonders only through a *few* icons, out of the many that exist ? I don't really know that either. Perhaps because He likes to keep His big wonders rare, as has always been His style. I mean, if almost EVERY icon would do at least a miracle, then all we'd have to do is just go and buy one from one of the many stores that sell them and -voila!, presto!- all our problems are gone, resolved! Which would pretty much defeat the purpose of having to carry one's cross and press down that narrow road that leads to salvation... we would not be able to immitate Job or Jesus in their patience, submission, and endurance; we would ultimately forfeit our destiny of becoming more and more Christ-like or God-like, thus losing our salvation. After all, icons are not jealous of one another because others are more wonder-working than them. ;-)