Thursday, June 9, 2011

Luther's Large Catechism on the First Commandment

Let's take a detour, which is really no detour, to the Large Catechism. The Large Catechism is no less a treasure than the small one dealing with the same fundamentals.  We must go there.

Going to the Reader's Edition we have a helpful introduction.

Luther spends more time on the First Commandment than on any other portion of the Catechism, explaining how essential it is to know, trust, and believe in the true God and to let nothing take His place.  He was convinced that where this commandment was being kept, all other commandments would follow.  A right relationship with God produces right relationships with fellow human beings.  
Very nice.  So help us God.

I will quote the first part and then summarize after that.

You shall have no other gods.  What this means:  You shall have Me alone as your God.  What is the meaning of this, and how is it to be understood?  What does it mean to have a god?  Or, what is God?  Answer:  A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress.  So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart.  I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.  If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true.  On the other hand, of your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God.  For these two belong together, faith and God [Hebrews 11:6].  Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.
The purpose of this commandment is to require true faith and trust of the heart, which settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone.  It is like saying, "See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another."  In other words, "Whatever you lack of good things, expect it from Me.  Look to Me for it.  ad whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl and cling to Me.  I, yes, I will give you enough and help you out of every need.  Only do not let your heart cleave to or rest on another."
It strikes me that we don't usually think of having a god, in this way.  This is probably because we don't have much faith.  It moves me that God has been so faithful in calling for this faith and love.  Where others see a tyrant for demanding such allegiance and having such rules, I see only a lover, a fortress.  It is his ultimate condescension that he wishes to have our heart.

The fact that we have such a powerful God should set us at rest and peace.  It should let all worry cease.  Yoga may be good for many things, but it cannot set your mind at ease.  Its objective is to cease thinking.  But God gives me the thoughts that bear me up.  His word is life and we cling to every syllable.

OK, then to summarize:  Luther outlines what he calls "counterexamples."  He explains at length the trust in Mammon and how it affects us when we have possessions and when we don't and how we deal with it when we have losses.  Similarly, skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor can be used by us as "gods".   One can see how arrogant people are who have such things and how despondent they are when they lose them.

Then he talks about praying to the saints for relief and calls this an abomination.

To quote again:

So you can easily understand what and how much this commandment requires.  A person's entire heart and all his confidence must be placed in God alone and in no one else.  For to "have" God, you can easily see, is not to take hold of Him with our hands or to put Him in a bag, like money, or to lock Him in a chest.  Instead, to "have" Him means that the heart takes hold of Him and clings to Him.  To cling to Him with the heart is nothing else than to trust in Him entirely.  For this reason God wishes to turn us away from everything else that exists outside of Him and to draw us to Himself  [John 6:44].  It is as though he would say,  "Whatever you have previously sought from the saints, or for whatever things you have trusted in money or anything else, expect it all from Me.  Think of Me as the one who will help you and pour out upon you richly all good things."

You can see how much time Luther has spent in the Psalter.  He is nourished and reared by it.

See, here you have the meaning of the true honor and worship of God, which pleases God, and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath.  The heart knows no other comfort or confidence than in him.  It must not allow itself to be torn from Him.  But, for Him, it must risk and disregard everything upon earth.  On the other hand, you can easily see and sense how the world practices only false worship and idolatry.  For no people have ever been so corrupt that they did not begin and  continue some divine worship.  Everyone has set up as his special god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort.
So, people of all times and places have always had their "gods".   This is practically normative.  He gives examples from the Roman gods. "Heathens make their self-invented notions and dreams of god an idol.  They put their trust in that which is nothing."

Isn't that the truth. Once, I wrote a paper on Buddhism for a class.  I was interested in the subject because I had traveled to Japan and no one there seemed to be able to explain anything about their religion.  There was so much bowing to statues and all that but no teaching it seemed.  When I had finished studying and writing I had come to the conclusion that in Buddhism each school and each person kind of makes up the religion as they go.  Do whatever makes you feel right or what you feel is right.  You can make up your own religion.

Modern man thinks that he is not like this.  It is important for us to see what modern man and even the atheist worship.  For surely, they worship something.  It will be something different for each.  Money, always money and possessions of course, body cult, sex, pleasure, games, diversions, conspiracy theories, urban legends, cutting edge technology, deconstruction, herbal remedies...  Many of these are not wrong of themselves.  They are wrong when they replace your trust and worship of God, and often they do entirely or in part.

Then Luther goes into the "false worship and extreme idolatry" of works.  This is how we think we can wrestle the heaven from God.  However, this is a making a god of ourselves and making God subservient and a debtor.

For the "simple people" he explains that God is the one who provides us with all we need:  food, clothing, parents, government, safety.  He makes that lovely point about God being "good"  and in German the word coming from the same root.  We receive all these needed things from his goodness.  If he withdrew his hand we would have none of these things.

We have an exhortation to consider these things carefully and not see it as a joke.  This is the most serious matter with God who attaches threats and promises to this commandment.  He will not overlook that people turn from him.  He has from the beginning uprooted all idolatry.

Yet, it is a matter of faith for us.  Those who trust God also often suffer all kinds of difficulties and reversals.

"For the world sees that those who trust in God and not in Mammon suffer care and want, and that the devil opposes and resists them.  They don't have money or favor or honor, and besides, can scarcely support life.  On the other hand, those who serve mammon have power, favor, honor, possessions and every comfort in the eyes of the world.  For this reason, these words must be understood to speak against the appearance of such things.  And we must consider that they do not lie or deceive, but must come true.  Reflect for yourself or investigate and tell me:  those who have used all their care and diligence to gather great possessions and wealth  what have they finally gained?  You will find that they have wasted their toil and labor, or even though they have amassed great treasures, they have been dispersed and scattered.  So they themselves have never found happiness in their wealth, and afterward, it never reached the third generation.  (42,43)
He says we will find many such examples in scripture and zeros in on Saul and David.

He warns us:  "Just let not the devil and the world deceive you with their show, which indeed remains for a time, but finally is nothing."

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