Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

From the Depths: Luther's Pastoral Theology

Martin Luther is a helpful corrective for seminary students, or even just folks who are theologically inclined, for a number of reasons. Not least of which among these reasons is the fact that Luther was always concerned to bring his theological program out of the ivory tower and into the living room. This move is evident all over the place, but it's especially evident in Luther's exposition of the Christian life which takes place, "in the depths." Luther, no stranger himself to the depths, observes that “[God] also cast his only and well-beloved Son, Christ, into the depths of all woe and showed in Him most plainly to what end His seeing work, help, method, counsel, and will are directed.” Christ, just as the writer of the Hebrews notes, is very familiar with the depths in which God’s people find themselves from time to time. And yet, “having most fully experienced all these things, Christ abounds through all eternity in the knowledge, love, and praise of God.” Thus, Christ praises God in the depths, just as the believer must.[1] In observing Mary, a common maid, Luther goes on to note that, “There is no peace except where men teach that we are made pious, righteous, and blessed by no work nor outward thing but solely by faith.” This is the case because God’s people are greatly benefitted by Christ’s incarnation. Indeed, Luther keys in on Mary’s remembrance of God’s faithfulness to His people, saying that “These are the riches of the boundless mercy of God, which we have received by no merit but by pure grace.” Even in the depths, there is peace, because of what Christ has done for the believer in providing them all the righteousness, forgiveness, and assorted other benefits necessary for right relationship with God.

Thematically tied to Luther's writing on the depths is Luther's writing on who and what Christ is to the believer. Christ, as both gift and example, provides the believer hope in the depths and great pastoral comfort at every other point in the Christian life. To that point, Luther makes clear that Christ is first and foremost a gift to His people, for His Gospel “does not tell us to do good works to make us pious, but it announces to us the grace of God bestowed gratis without our merit, and tells us how Christ took our place, rendered satisfaction for our sins, and destroyed them, and that He makes us pious and saves us through his work.” Indeed, this can only happen through God’s grace in Christ. It is only after Christ has been apprehended by the believer by faith that He can rightly be seen in any sense as example. In fact, those who are outwardly holy, who see Christ only as example, may be holy in the perception of those around them, but they are not sprinkled or pure inwardly, for they have not received Christ as gift and thus do not have the benefits of his atoning blood. It is the apprehension of Christ as gift which allows one to live for the sake of his neighbor, for he is no longer under the yoke of the Law. Indeed, because God gives us Christ as a gift, “His only Son, the highest Good, He, through Him, also gives us all His good things, riches, and treasures, from which the angels in heaven derive all pleasure and joy.”

In keeping with Luther’s pastoral-theological thoughts on the person of Christ, he sees Christ in the Sermon on the Mount as one who “does not come like Moses or a teacher of the Law, with demands, threats, and terrors, but in a very friendly way, with enticements, allurements, and pleasant promises.” Additionally, Christ is the one who comes to the poor, to those who mourn, to the meek, to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, to the merciful, to those of a pure heart, and to many others, for they are the ones who “hear [their] Lord Christ telling [them]that He is truly delighted, and commanding [them] to be happy about it.” Thus, even though the Christian encounters a great deal of trouble in this earthly life, they will always have “the Gospel and Christ,” and Christ is a “dear and wonderful Preacher and faithful Master! He leaves out nothing that will help to strengthen and console, whether it be His Word and promise or the example and testimony of all the saints and of Himself.”

Take heart, Christian. Whether in the depths or outside of them at this very moment, Christ is a gift to you, a dear and wonderful Preacher and a faithful Master.


[1] Of course, this selection comes from Luther’s writing on the Magnificat, which is to say that to a certain extent, Mary also teaches God’s people about the depths.

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