18 June 2007
But it is especially Christ crucified whom we are to preach. His wounds and bruises remind us that we must tell you that “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” It is at Calvary that salvation is to be found; where Jesus bowed his head, and gave up the ghost, he overcame the powers of darkness, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. There is one word that every true servant of Christ must be able to speak very distinctly; and that word is substitution. I believe that substitution is the key-word to all true theology; — Christ standing in the place of sinners, and numbered with the transgressors because of their transgressions, not his own — Christ paying our debts, and discharging all our liabilities. This truth involves, of course, our taking Christ’s place as he took ours, so that all believers are beloved, accepted, made heirs of God, and in due time shall be glorified with Christ for ever. Brother ministers, whatever you fail to preach, make your hearers always clearly understand that there is a divine and all-sufficient Substitute for sinners, and that all who put their trust in him shall be eternally saved.
C. H. Spurgeon, PREACHING CHRIST CRUCIFIED, Sermon no. 3218
16 June 2007
"Almost thou persuadest me to be a christian." — Acts 26:28.
THESE words contain the ingenuous confession of King Agrippa which, having some reference to the preceding verses, it may not be improper to relate the substance of them.
The chapter out of which the text is taken contains an admirable account which the great St. Paul gave of his wonderful conversion from Judaism to Christianity, when he was called to make his defence before Festus, a Gentile governor, and King Agrippa. Our blessed Lord had long since foretold that when the Son of Man should be lifted up, "His disciples would be brought before kings and rulers, for His name’s sake, for a testimony unto them". And very good was the design of Infinite Wisdom in thus ordaining it. For Christianity being from the beginning a doctrine of the cross, the princes and rulers of the earth thought themselves too high to be instructed by such mean teachers, or too happy to be disturbed by such unwelcome truths; and therefore would have always continued strangers to Jesus Christ and Him crucified, had not the apostles, by being arraigned before them, gained opportunities of preaching to them "Jesus and the resurrection".
St. Paul knew full well that this was the main reason why his blessed Master permitted his enemies at this time to arraign him in a public court; and therefore, in compliance with the divine will, thought it not sufficient barely to make his defence, but endeavoured at the same time to convert his judges. And this he did with such demonstration of the Spirit and of power that Festus, unwilling to be convinced by the strongest evidence, cried out with a loud voice, "Paul, much learning doth make thee mad". To which the brave apostle (like a true follower of the holy Jesus) meekly replied, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness."
In all probability, seeing King Agrippa more affected with his discourse, and observing in him an inclination to know the truth, he applied himself more particularly to him. "The king knoweth of these things; before whom also I speak freely, for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him." And then, that if possible he might complete his wished-for conversion, he, with an inimitable strain of oratory, addressed himself still more closely, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest them". At which the passions of the king began to work so strongly, that he was obliged in open court to own himself affected by the prisoner’s preaching, and ingenuously to cry out, "Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian".
These words, taken with the context, afford us a lively representation of the different reception which the doctrine of Christ’s ministers, who come in the power and spirit of Paul, meets with nowadays in the minds of men. For notwithstanding they, like this great apostle, "speak forth the words of truth and soberness", and with such energy and power that all their adversaries cannot justly gainsay or resist; yet, too many, with the noble Festus before mentioned, being, like him, either too proud to be taught, or too sensual, too careless, or too worldly-minded to live up to the doctrine, in order to excuse themselves, cry out that "much learning (much study, or, what is more unaccountable, much piety) hath made them mad". And though, blessed be God! all do not thus disbelieve our report, yet amongst those who gladly receive the Word, and confess that we speak the words of truth and soberness, there are so few who arrive at any higher degree of piety than that of Agrippa, or are any farther persuaded than to be almost Christians, that I cannot but think it highly necessary to warn them of the danger of such a state. And therefore, from the words of the text, shall endeavour to show three things.
WHAT IS MEANT BY AN ALMOST CHRISTIAN
An almost Christian, if we consider him in respect to his duty to God, is one that halts between two opinions; that wavers between Christ and the world; that would reconcile God and mammon, light and darkness, Christ and Belial. It is true, he has an inclination to religion, but then he is very cautious lest he goes too far in it; his false heart is always crying out, "Spare thyself, do thyself no harm". He prays that God’s will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven. But notwithstanding, he is very partial in his obedience, and fondly hopes that God will not be extreme to mark everything that he wilfully does amiss; though an inspired apostle has told him, that "he who offends in one point is guilty of all". But chiefly, he is one that depends much on outward ordinances, and on that account looks upon himself as righteous, and despises others; though at the same time he is as great a stranger to the divine life as any other person whatsoever. In short, he is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart. He goes on year after year attending on the means of grace, but, like Pharaoh’s lean kine, he is never the better, but rather the worse for it.
If you consider him in respect to his neighbour, he is one that is strictly just to all; but then this does not proceed from any love to God or regard to man, but only through a principle of self-love, because he knows dishonesty will spoil his reputation, and consequently hinder his thriving in the world.
He is one that depends much upon being negatively good, and contents himself with the consciousness of having done no one any harm; though he reads in the gospel that "the unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness", and the barren fig tree was cursed and dried up from the roots, for bearing not bad fruit, but no fruit.
He is no enemy to charitable contributions in public, if not too frequently recommended: but then he is unacquainted with the kind offices of visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked and relieving the hungry in a personal manner. He thinks that these things belong only to the clergy, though his own false heart tells him that nothing but pride keeps him from exercising these acts of humility; and that Jesus Christ condemns persons to everlasting punishment, not merely for being fornicators, drunkards, or extortioners, but for neglecting these charitable offices: "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory . . . he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left . . . Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment" (Matt. 25:31, 33, 41-46). I thought it proper to give you this whole passage of Scripture, because our Saviour lays such a particular stress upon it; and yet it is so little regarded, that were we to judge by the practice of Christians, we would be tempted to think there were no such verses in the Bible.
To proceed to the character of an almost Christian. If we consider him in respect of himself, as we said, he is strictly honest to his neighbour, so he is likewise strictly sober in himself; but then both his honesty and sobriety proceed from the same principle of a false self-love. It is true, he runs not into the same excess of riot with other men; but then it is not out of obedience to the laws of God, but either because his constitution dislikes intemperance; or rather because he is cautious of forfeiting his reputation, or unfitting himself for temporal business. But though he is so prudent as to avoid intemperance and excess, for the reasons before mentioned; yet he always goes to the extremity of what is lawful. It is true, he is no drunkard; but then he has no Christian self-denial. He cannot think our Saviour to be so austere a Master, as to deny us to indulge ourselves in some particulars: and so by this means he is destitute of a sense of true religion, as much as if he lived in debauchery, or any other crime whatever. As to settling his principles as well as practice, he is guided more by the world than by the Word of God: for his part, he cannot think the way to heaven so narrow as some would make it; and therefore considers not so much what Scripture requires, as what such and such a good man does, or what will best suit his own corrupt inclinations. Upon this account he is not only very cautious himself, but likewise very careful of young converts, whose faces are set heavenward; and therefore is always acting the devil’s part, and bidding them spare themselves, though they are doing no more than what the Scripture strictly requires them to do: the consequence of which is, that he suffers not himself to enter into the kingdom of God, and those that are entering in he hinders.
Thus lives the almost Christian; not that I can say I have fully described him to you, but from these outlines and sketches of his character, if your consciences have done their proper work, and made a particular application of what has been said to your own hearts, I cannot but fear that some of you may observe some features in his picture, odious as it is, too nearly resembling your own. Therefore I cannot but hope that you will join with the apostle in the words immediately following the text, and wish yourselves "to be not only almost, but altogether christians".
WHY SO MANY ARE NO MORE THAN ALMOST CHRISTIANS
1. The first reason I shall mention is, because so many set out with false notions of religion; though they live in a Christian country, yet they know not what Christianity is. This perhaps may be esteemed a hard saying, but experience sadly evinces the truth of it; for some place religion in being of this or that communion; more, in morality; most, in a round of duties, and a model of performances; and few, very few, acknowledge it to be what it really is, a thorough inward change of nature, a divine life, a vital participation of Jesus Christ, a union of the soul with God; which the apostle expresses by saying, "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit".
Hence it happens that so many, even of the most knowing professors, when you come to converse with them concerning the essence, the life, the soul of religion, I mean our new birth in Jesus Christ, confess themselves quite ignorant of the matter, and cry out with Nicodemus, "How can this thing be?" And no wonder then that so many are only almost Christians, when so many know not what Christianity is: no marvel that so many take up with the form, when they are quite strangers to the power of godliness; or content themselves with the shadow, when they know so little about the substance of it. And this is one cause why so many are almost, and so few are altogether Christians.
2. A second reason that may be assigned why so many are no more than almost Christians, is a servile fear of man: multitudes there are, and have been, who, though awakened to a sense of the divine life, and having tasted and felt the powers of the world to come; yet out of a base sinful fear of being counted singular, or despised by men, have allowed all those good impressions to wear off. It is true, they have some esteem for Jesus Christ, but then, like Nicodemus, they would come to Him only by night. They are willing to serve Him, but then they would do it secretly, for fear of the Jews; they have a mind to see Jesus, but then they cannot come to Him because of the crowd, and for fear of being laughed at and ridiculed by those with whom they used to sit at meat.
Well did our Saviour prophesy of such persons, "How can ye love me, who receive honour one of another?" Have they never read that "The friendship of this world is enmity with God": and that our Lord Himself has threatened, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me or of my words, in this wicked and adulterous generation, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, and of his holy angels?" No wonder that so many are no more than almost Christians, since so many "love the praise of men more than the honour which cometh of God".
3. A third reason why so many are no more than almost Christians, is a reigning love of money. This was the pitiable case of that forward young man in the Gospel who came running to our blessed Lord and, kneeling before Him, inquired what he must do to inherit eternal life; to whom our blessed Master replied, "Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal"; to which the young man replied, "All these have I observed from my youth". But when our Lord proceeded to tell him, "One thing thou lackest; go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor"; he was grieved at that saying, and went away sorrowful, "for he had great possessions!".
Poor youth! he had a good mind to be a Christian, and to inherit eternal life, but thought it too dear, if it could be purchased at no less an expense than of his estate! And thus many, both young and old, nowadays come running to worship our Lord in public, and kneel before Him in private, and inquire at His gospel, what they must do to inherit eternal life; but when they find they must renounce the self-enjoyment of riches, and forsake all in affection to follow Him, they cry, "The Lord pardon us in this thing! We pray Thee have us excused".
But is heaven so small a trifle in men’s esteem, as not to be worth a little gilded earth? Is eternal life so mean a purchase, as not to deserve a temporary renunciation of a few transitory riches? Surely it is. But however inconsistent such a behaviour may be, this inordinate love of money is too evidently the common and fatal cause why so many are no more than almost Christians.
4. Nor is the love of pleasure a less uncommon or a less fatal cause why so many are no more than almost Christians. Thousands and ten thousands there are who despise riches and would willingly be true disciples of Jesus Christ, if parting with their money would make them so; but when they are told that our blessed Lord has said, "Whosoever will come after me must deny himself", like the pitiable young man before mentioned, they go away sorrowful, for they have too great a love for sensual pleasures. They will perhaps send for the ministers of Christ, as Herod did for John, and hear them gladly: but touch them in their Herodias, tell them they must part with such and such a darling pleasure, and with wicked Ahab they cry out, "Hast thou found us, O our enemy?" Tell them of the necessity of mortification and self-denial, and it is as difficult for them to hear, as if you were to bid them "cut off a right hand or pluck out a right eye". They cannot think our Lord requires so much at their hands, though an inspired apostle has commanded us to "mortify our members which are upon earth". And who himself, even after he had converted thousands, and had very nearly arrived at the end of his race, yet professed that it was his daily practice to "keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, lest, after he had preached to others, he himself should be a castaway".
But some men would be wiser than this great apostle, and chalk out to us what they falsely imagine an easier way to happiness. They would flatter us that we may go to heaven without offering violence to our sensual appetites; and enter into the strait gate without striving against our carnal inclinations. And this is another reason why so many are only almost, and not altogether Christians.
5. The fifth and last reason I shall assign why so many are only almost Christians, is a fickleness and instability of temper.
It has been, no doubt, a misfortune that many a minister and sincere Christian has met with, to weep and wail over numbers of promising converts, who seemingly began in the Spirit, but after a while fell away, and basely ended in the flesh; and this not for want of right notions in religion, nor out of a servile fear of man, nor from the love of money, or of sensual pleasure, but through an instability and fickleness of temper. They looked upon religion, merely for novelty, as something which pleased them for a while; but after their curiosity was satisfied they laid it aside again: like the young man that came to see Jesus with a linen cloth about his naked body, they have followed Him for a season, but when temptations came to take hold on them, for want of a little more resolution, they have been stripped of all their good intentions, and fled away naked.
They at first, like a tree planted by the water-side, grew up and flourished for a while; but having no root in themselves, no inward principle of holiness and piety, like Jonah’s gourd, they were soon dried up and withered. Their good intentions are too like the violent motions of the animal spirits of a body newly beheaded, which, though impetuous, are not lasting. In short, they set out well in their journey to heaven, but finding the way either narrower or longer than they expected, through an unsteadiness of temper, they have made a halt, and so "returned like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire!"
I tremble to pronounce the fate of such unstable professors, who, having put their hands to the plough, for want of a little more resolution, shamefully look back. How shall I repeat to them that dreadful threatening, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him"; and again, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift . . . and the powers of the world to come, if they should fail away, to renew them again unto repentance" (Heb. 6:4-6). But notwithstanding the gospel is so severe against apostates, yet many that begun well, through a fickleness of temper (oh, that none of us may ever be such!), have been, by this means, of the number of those that turn back unto perdition.
THE FOLLY OF BEING NO MORE THAN ALMOST CHRISTIAN
1. The first proof I shall give of the folly of such a proceeding is that it is ineffectual to salvation.
It is true, such men are almost good; but almost to hit the mark, is really to miss it. God requires us "to love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength". He loves us too well to admit any rival; because, so far as our hearts are empty of God, so far must they be unhappy. The devil, indeed, like the false mother that came before Solomon, would have our hearts divided, as she would have had the child; but God, like the true mother, will have all or none. "My son, give me thy heart," thy whole heart, is the general call to all: and if this be not done, we never can expect the divine mercy.
Persons may play the hypocrite; but God at the great day will strike them dead (as He did Ananias and Sapphira by the mouth of His servant Peter), for pretending to offer Him all their hearts, when they keep back from Him the greatest part. They may perhaps impose upon their fellow-creatures for a while; but He that enabled Ahijah to cry out, "Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam", when she came disguised to inquire about her sick son, will also discover them through their most artful dissimulations; and if their hearts are not wholly with Him, appoint them their portion with hypocrites and unbelievers.
2. What renders a half-way piety more inexcusable is that it is not only insufficient to our own salvation, but also very prejudicial to that of others.
An almost Christian is one of the most hurtful creatures in the world; he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is one of those false prophets our blessed Lord bids us beware of, in His Sermon on the Mount, who would persuade men that the way to heaven is broader than it really is; and thereby, as it was observed before, "enter not into the kingdom of God themselves; and those that are entering in they hinder". These, these are the men that turn the world into a lukewarm Laodicean spirit; that hang out false lights and so shipwreck unthinking benighted souls in their voyage to the haven of eternity. These are they who are greater enemies to the cross of Christ than infidels themselves: for of an unbeliever everyone will be aware; but an almost Christian, through his subtle hypocrisy, draws away many after him, and therefore must expect to receive the greater damnation.
3. As it is most prejudicial to ourselves and hurtful to others, so it is the greatest instance of ingratitude we can express towards our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
For did He come down from heaven, and shed His precious blood, to purchase these hearts of ours, and shall we only give Him half of them? Oh, how can we say we love Him, when our hearts are not wholly with Him? How can we call Him our Saviour, when we will not endeavour sincerely to approve ourselves to Him, and so let Him see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied!
Had any of us purchased a slave at a most expensive rate, who was before involved in the utmost miseries and torments, and so must have continued for ever, had we shut up our heart of compassion from him; and were this slave afterwards to grow rebellious, and give us but half his service, how should we exclaim against his base ingratitude! And yet this base ungrateful slave you are, O man, who acknowledges yourself to be redeemed from infinite unvoidable misery and punishment by the death of Jesus Christ, and yet will not give yourself wholly to Him. But shall we deal with God our Maker in a manner we would not be dealt with by a man like ourselves? God forbid!
Let me add a word or two of exhortation to you, to excite you to be not only almost, but altogether Christians. Oh, let us scorn all base and treacherous treatment of our King and Saviour, of our God and Creator. Let us not take some pains all our lives to go to heaven, and yet plunge ourselves into hell at last. Let us give to God our whole hearts, and no longer halt between two opinions. If the world be god, let us serve that; if pleasure be a god, let us serve that; but if the Lord be God, let us, oh let us, serve Him alone. Why, why should we stand out any longer? Why should we be so in love with slavery, as not wholly to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, which, like so many spiritual chains, bind down our souls, and hinder them from flying up to God? What are we afraid of? Is not God able to reward our entire obedience? If He is, as the almost Christian’s lame way of serving Him seems to grant, why then will we not serve Him entirely? For the same reason we do so much, why do we not do more? Or do you think that being only half religious will make you happy, but that going farther will render you miserable and uneasy?
This, my brethren, is delusion all over; for what is it but this half piety, this wavering between God and the world, that makes so many that are seemingly well disposed, such utter strangers to the comforts of religion. They choose just so much of religion as will disturb them in their lusts, and follow their lusts so far as to deprive themselves of the comforts of religion. Whereas, on the contrary, would they sincerely leave all in affection, and give their hearts wholly to God, they would then (and they cannot till then) experience the unspeakable pleasure of having a mind at unity with itself, and enjoy such a peace of God, which even in this life passes all understanding, and which they were entire strangers to before.
It is true, if we will devote ourselves entirely to God, we must meet with contempt; but then it is because contempt is necessary to heal our pride. We must renounce some sensual pleasures; but then it is because those unfit us for spiritual ones, which are infinitely better. We must renounce the love of the world; but then it is that we may be filled with the love of God: and when that has once enlarged our hearts, we shall, like Jacob when he served for his beloved Rachel, think nothing too difficult to undergo, no hardships too tedious to endure, because of the love we shall then have for our dear Redeemer. Thus easy, thus delightful will be the ways of God even in this life. But when once we throw off these bodies, and our souls are filled with all the fulness of God, O what heart can conceive, what tongue can express, with what unspeakable joy and consolation shall we then look back on our past sincere and hearty services! Shall we then repent that we have done too much; or rather do you not think we shall be ashamed that we did no more; and blush that we were so backward to give up all to God, when He intended hereafter to give us Himself?
Let me therefore, to conclude, exhort you my brethren, to have always before you the unspeakable happiness of enjoying God. And remember that every degree of holiness you neglect, every act of piety you omit, is a jewel taken out of your crown, a degree of blessedness lost in the vision of God. Oh, do but always think and act thus, and you will no longer be labouring to compound matters between God and the world; but, on the contrary, be daily endeavouring to give up yourselves more and more unto Him. You will be always watching, always praying, always aspiring after further degrees of purity and love, and consequently always preparing yourselves for a fuller sight and enjoyment of that God, in whose presence there is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Amen!
--A Sermon by George Whitefield
15 June 2007
Murillo’s The Prodigal Returns
"Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto you; for you are the Lord our God."—Jeremiah. 3:22.
There are some unveilings of God’s heart, which can only be understood and met by responsive unfoldings of ours. It is not the flinty, impervious rock that welcomes and absorbs the heaven-distilling dew. Upon such an object in nature, beautiful and grand though it may be, the life-quickening moisture, thus descending, is a thankless and fruitless offering—a useless expenditure of one of nature’s richest treasures. But let that dew, noiseless and unseen, fall upon the flower, the herb, the tree,—the earth which the ploughshare has upturned and the furrow has broken,—and how refreshing the boon, and how rich the return! Thus is it with such an exhibition of the heart of God as that which we have just presented—inimitable in its tenderness, unsurpassed in its condescension and grace. Let these words distill upon any other than a heart humbled, softened, lying low in a low place, in the consciousness of its sinful departure, its sad backsliding from God, and they awake no tender, holy, grateful response. How beautiful are the reciprocal influences of the human and the divine, as presented in the narrative! "A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God." That voice of weeping entered into the ears of God, and lo! the gracious invitation—"Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." And then follows the instant and grateful response—"Behold, we come unto you; for you are the Lord our God." Mark, how divine and restoring grace gently falls upon the lowly, penitent, returning soul; and then how the sin-contrite heart of the child goes forth to meet and embrace the sin-forgiving heart of the Father. Few will read the pages of a work designed to proffer a helping hand to Zion’s travelers to whom that hand will be more needful and acceptable than the awakened, returning backslider. To such, languid and fainting, depressed and despairing, hesitating to return, doubting God’s welcome,—evidences lost, soul-beclouded, fears rising, hope veiled,—the strongest cordials of God’s most gracious, full, and free promises are needful to rouse, revive, and reassure the wanderer that the Lord invites, receives, and welcomes the returning backslider—the child retracing his way back to his forsaken Father.
God addresses them as backsliding CHILDREN. He can never forget His parental relation to them, though they may forget or abuse their filial relation to Him. Children though we are, adopted, sealed, and inalienably entitled to all the covenant blessings of adoption, we are yet backsliding children. The heart is ever swerving from God. The renewed soul possesses the principle of its own departure, contains the elements of its own declension, and but for the electing love, the restraining grace, the illimitable power of God, would destroy itself entirely and forever. Having in a former treatise (Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul) gone somewhat at length into the nature, causes, symptoms, and recovery of spiritual declension, my object now is specifically to meet that state of lukewarmness, tenderness, and hesitancy which marks the tremulousness of the contrite heart returning to God.
The language in which God addresses you is most reassuring. He calls you "children;" though a backslider, yet a child. Can the human parent ever forget, in the deepest provocation of his offspring, that still he is his child? God here meets His wanderer just where that wanderer stands most in need of a Divine assurance. What relation is it which spiritual backsliding the most contravenes, which sin the most obscures, and of which unbelief and Satan, presuming upon that backsliding, would suggest to the mind the strongest suspicion and doubt? We answer—the relation of Divine sonship. The backslider reasons thus—"Is my adoption real? Can I be a child of God, and prove so base, sin so deeply, and depart so far from my God? If a son, why am I so rebellious, disobedient, and unfaithful? Surely I cannot belong to the adoption of God, and grieve and wound the Spirit of adoption thus?" Now God meets the wanderer just at this critical juncture. He declares that though a backslider, yet he is still His child, and that no departure however distant, and that no sin however aggravated, has impaired the strength or lessened the tenderness, tarnished or shaded the luster of that relation. If God, then, comes forth, and, despite our backsliding, recognizes our son-ship, and acknowledges us as His children, who shall dispute or contravene the fact? "Let God be true, and every man a liar." Such, beloved, is the first consolation I suggest to your sad and depressed soul. Could it be surpassed by anything else I may offer?
What! does God still call you His child? Does He not disown and disinherit you as a son of God and an heir of glory? Ah, no! He cannot forget that He has predestinated you to the adoption of children, that His Spirit has been sent into your heart, and that in happier days gone by you have often called Him "Abba, Father." And although you have been rebellious, backsliding, and stiff-necked, yet, taking with you words and turning to the Lord your God, He meets you as once He met His repenting, mourning Ephraim— "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself . . . Is Ephraim my dear SON? is he a pleasant CHILD? for since I spoke against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my affections are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, says the Lord," (Jer. 31:18, 20.) Clear is it, then, that God’s children do backslide; that it is no strange thing that their love to Him should wax cold, their faith decline, their strength decay, their zeal slacken, their godly frames grow sleepy and inert, the spirit of prayer be restrained, the means of grace be neglected; and, as a consequence of all this inward declension, the world should have an ascendancy, Satan prevail, and the sin that does most easily beset them attain a momentary triumph. But still they are God’s children,—O wondrous grace! O changeless love!—and chastened, corrected, rebuked, and humbled, their heavenly Father will restore them to His pardoning love and gracious favor, and they shall again walk with Him filially, humbly, softly, as His dear children, "when He is pacified towards them for all that they have done."
What an invitation! "RETURN!" It is GOD who speaks it—the God from whom we have revolted, departed, and gone so far astray. It is the word of our Father, against whom we have rebelled, so deeply, so grievously sinned. He trammels His invitation with no conditions. His simple word is—"Return unto me!" And more than this,—He has placed before us an open door of return through Jesus His beloved Son. The covenant of works provided no restoration for the soul that departed from God under the first testament. But the covenant of grace has this distinction, this glorious feature—it places before the penitent backslider, the contrite child, an open door of return, a way of restored pardon, joy, and peace, and bids him enter. The Lord Jesus is this open door. The blood of Jesus, the righteousness of Jesus, the intercession of Jesus, the grace of Jesus, the quenchless love of Jesus, the outstretched hand of Jesus, unite in guiding the trembling footstep of the returning soul back to its Father. The present efficacy and the continuous presentation of the Lord’s sacrifice in heaven, blended with His intercessory work, personally and constantly prosecuted before the throne, are a warrant that this door to God shall never be closed while there lives a penitent sinner to enter it. Beware of shading the luster of this truth—the present efficacy of the blood. "The blood of Jesus Christ CLEANSES"—it is in the form of the present tense the great truth is put. The past is gone, the future all to us unknown—it is with the present we have to deal. A present sorrow needing comfort, a present perplexity needing guidance, a present burden demanding support, a present sin asking forgiveness, with a present Savior prepared to meet and supply it all. Grasp this truth with all the intensity of your faith under present circumstances. Brood not over what is past, yield to no forebodings and fears as to what may be the future—grapple with the present. For it you have a door, which God Himself has opened and which neither man, nor Satan, nor sin, shall shut. You have a throne of grace now inviting your approach; and you have the blood of Jesus with which to enter, as new, as efficacious, as prevalent, and as free as when it streamed from His sacred body on the cross. Let there be no postponement, then, of your return to God. Tarry for no more favorable moment, wait not for a better frame, dream not that Christ will be more willing to present, or that God will be more ready to receive you at any future time than now; or, that by delaying you will be more worthy of His acceptance. Vain reasoning! God says, "Return unto me, and He means by this, "Return NOW!"
And what is the promise? "I will heal your backslidings." Backsliding from the Lord involves wounds, bruises, dislocation. It wounds the conscience, it bruises the soul, it breaks the bones of our strength, and causes us to travel in pain and halting many a weary step. Ah, there is nothing so wounding as departure from God! Nothing so bruising of the soul’s peace and joy and hope as sin! Who can heal, who can bind up, who can mollify, who can reset these broken bones so that they shall rejoice again, but our sin-pardoning God? We have no self-power in this great matter of restoration. All that we can do is to make burdens, forge chains, carve crosses, inflict wounds,—in a word, destroy our own selves. Listen to David’s experience—"I have gone astray like a lost sheep." This is all that he could do. But mark his conscious helplessness,—"seek your servant;" and then observe the imperishable nature of the grace of God in his soul,—"for I do not forget your commandments," (Ps. 119:176.) Of how many who bend over these pages will this be a faithful portrait! Lord! I can leave Your fold, can willfully depart from Your ways, can basely turn my back upon Yourself; but You must go in quest of me, seek and restore my soul; and this I may venture to ask, since I have not forgotten the happy days when Your candle shone upon my head, when Your light guided me through darkness, when the name of Jesus was as ointment poured forth, when I walked in sweet and holy communion with You, and fed with the flock beside the Shepherd’s tent. "I do not forget your commandments." God will forgive! Christ will bind up the broken heart!
The Comforter will restore joy to the soul! There is still balm in Gilead, and a Physician there. The healing balsam still bleeds from the wounded, stricken Tree of Life. The gate of paradise is yet unclosed, its portal garlanded with a thousand exceeding great and precious promises, all inviting your entrance and insuring you a welcome to its sunny banks, its shaded bowers, its peaceful quiet streams. "Who is a God like unto you, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retains not his anger forever, because he delights in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea," (Micah 7:18, 19.) What glad tidings these astounding words contain to repentant back-sliders! What a bow of promise and of hope do they paint upon the dark cloud of despair which enshrouds the soul! "He will turn again." Though He has turned a thousand times before, yet, "He will turn AGAIN;" not "seven times" only, but "seventy times seven."
And what is the response of the returning soul? "Behold, we come unto you; for you are the Lord our God." Behold, we come! just as we are. We come from the swine’s trough; we come from feeding upon husks, upon ashes, and upon the wind. We come with the bruise, the wound, the dislocated limb. We come deploring our fall, confessing our departure, mourning over our sin; receive us graciously, love us freely, and turn your anger away from us. "I will arise and go unto my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned."
What! after all that I have done—in the face of my willful transgression, of my base ingratitude, of my abused mercies, of my past restorings, of my aggravated departures, of all the past of Your mercy, Your goodness, Your faithfulness, Your love, do You still bid me return? Does the overture, the outstretched hand, the first step, come from You? Then, behold, I come unto You, for You are the Lord my God! Your power draws, Your goodness dissolves, Your faithfulness binds my heart, and, lo! I come. Your grace restores, Your love pardons, Your blood heals my soul, and, behold! I come. Your voice, so kind, invites me; Your feet, so unwearied, seek me; Your hand, so gentle, leads me; Your look, so loving, so melting, so forgiving, wins me: and, Lord, I must not, I dare not, I cannot stay away. Behold! I come unto You.
"Jesus, let Your pitying eye
Call back a wandering sheep;
False to You like Peter, I
Would gladly like Peter weep.
Let me be by grace restored;
On me be all patience shown;
Turn and look upon me, Lord,
And break this heart of stone.
"Look as when Your grace beheld
The harlot in distress,
Dried her tears, her pardon sealed,
And bade her go in peace;
"Foul, like her, and self-abhorred,
I at Your feet for mercy groan:
Turn and look upon me, Lord,
And break this heart of stone.
"Look as when, condemned for them,
You did Your followers see;
‘Daughters of Jerusalem!
Weep for yourselves, not me.’
And am I by my God deplored,
And shall I not myself bemoan?
Turn and look upon me, Lord,
And break this heart of stone.
"Look as when Your languid eye
Was closed that we might live:
‘Father,’ (at the point to die
My Savior cried,) ‘forgive;’
Surely with that dying word,
He turns, and looks, and cries, ‘Tis done!’
O my gracious, bleeding Lord,
You break my heart of stone!"
Octavius Winslow, Help Heavenward
14 June 2007
There is much talk in our day about the gospel, even great defenses for it, but I wonder if there is enough clear proclamaton of the gospel to those who need it most, those yet without Christ. Whether you are a follower of Jesus Christ or not, you'll find help from this message by Charles Spurgeon. If you are a Christian, learn how to proclaim Christ. If not, come, learn of Christ and His wonderful salvation.
This message is for you. You will find the text in Romans 4:5, “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
I call your attention to those words, “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” They seem to me to be very wonderful words.
Are you not surprised that there should be such an expression as that in the Bible, “That justifieth the ungodly”? I have heard that men that hate the doctrines of the cross bring it as a charge against God, that He saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. See how this Scripture accepts the charge and plainly states it! By the mouth of His servant Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He takes to Himself the title of “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” He makes those just who are unjust, forgives those who deserve no favor. Did you think that salvation was for the good and that God’s grace was for the pure and holy who are free from sin? Perhaps you think that if you were excellent, then God would reward you; and maybe you have thought that because you are not worthy, therefore there could be no way of your enjoying His favor. You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” I do not wonder that you are surprised; for with all my familiarity with the great grace of God, I never cease to wonder at it. It does sound surprising, does it not, that it should be possible for a holy God to justify an unholy man? We, according to the natural legality of our hearts, are always talking about our own goodness and our own worthiness, and we stubbornly believe that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God. Now, God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatever in us. He says that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). He knows that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), and, therefore, the Lord Jesus did not come into the world to look after goodness and righteousness among men, but to bestow them upon persons who have none of them. He comes, not because we are just, but to make us so; He justifieth the ungodly.
When a lawyer comes into court, if he is an honest man, he desires to plead the case of an innocent person and justify him before the court from the things which are falsely laid to his charge. It should he the lawyer’s object to justify the innocent person, and he should not attempt to screen the guilty party. It is not man’s right nor in his power to truly justify the guilty. This is a miracle reserved for the Lord alone. God, the infinitely just Sovereign, knows that there is not a just man upon earth who does good and does not sin. Therefore, in the infinite sovereignty of His divine nature and in the splendor of His ineffable love, He undertakes the task, not so much of justifying the just as of justifying the ungodly. God has devised ways and means of making the ungodly man to stand justly accepted before Him. He has set up a system by which with perfect justice He can treat the guilty as if he had been free from offence; yes, can treat him as if he were wholly free from sin. He justifieth the ungodly.
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. It is a very surprising thing, a thing to be marveled at most of all by those who enjoy it. I know that it is to me, even to this day, the greatest wonder that lever heard of that God should ever justify me. I feel myself to be a lump of unworthiness, a mass of corruption, and a heap of sin apart from His almighty love. I know and am fully assured that I am justified by faith which is in Christ Jesus, and I am treated as if I had been perfectly just and made an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. And yet, by nature I must take my place among the most sinful. I, who am altogether undeserving, am treated as if I had been deserving. I am loved with as much love as if I had always been godly, whereas before I was ungodly. Who can help being astonished at this? Gratitude for such favor stands dressed in robes of wonder.
Now, while this is very surprising, I want you to notice how available it makes the Gospel to you and to me. If God justifieth the ungodly, then He can justify you. Is not that the very kind of person that you are? If you are unconverted at this moment, it is a very proper description of you. You have lived without God; you have been the reverse of godly. In one word, you have been and are ungodly. Perhaps you have not even attended a place of worship on Sunday, but have lived in disregard of God’s day and house and Word. This proves you to have been ungodly. Sadder still, it may be you have even tried to doubt God’s existence and have gone the length of saying that you did so. You have lived on this fair earth which is full of the tokens of God’s presence, and all the while you have shut your eyes to the clear evidences of His power and Godhead. You have lived as if there were no God. Indeed, you would have been very pleased if you could have positively demonstrated to yourself that there was no God whatever. Possibly you have lived a great many years in this way so that you are now pretty well settled in your ways, and yet God is not in any of them. If you were labeled ungodly, it would describe you as well as if the sea were to be labeled salt water. Would it not?
Possibly you are a person of another sort. You have regularly attended to all the outward forms of religion, and yet you have had no heart in them at all, but have been really ungodly. Though meeting with the people of God, you have never met with God for yourself; you have been in the choir, and yet have not praised the Lord with your heart. You have lived without any love to God in your heart, or regard to His commands in your life. Well, you are just the kind of person to whom this Gospel is sent, this Gospel which says that God justifieth the ungodly. It is very wonderful, but it is happily available for you. It just suits you. Does it not? Howl wish that you would accept it! If you are a sensible person, you will see the remarkable grace of God in providing for someone such as you are, and you will say to yourself, “Justify the ungodly! Why, then, should not I be justified, and justified at once?”
Now, observe further, that it must be so. The salvation of God is for those who do not deserve it and have no preparation for it. It is reasonable that the statement should be put in the Bible, for no others need justifying but those who have no justification of their own. If any of you are perfectly righteous, you want no justifying. You feel that you are doing your duty well, and almost putting heaven under an obligation to you. What do you want with a Saviour or with mercy? What do you want with justification? You will be tired of this book by this time, for it will have no interest to you.
If any of you are giving yourselves such proud airs, listen to me for a little while. You will be lost as sure as you are alive. You righteous men, whose righteousness is all of your own working, are either deceivers or deceived, for the Scripture cannot lie and it says plainly, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” In any case, I have no Gospel to preach to the self-righteous, no, not a word. Jesus Christ Himself came not to call the righteous, and I am not going to do what He did not do. If I called you, you would not come; therefore, I will not call you. No, I ask you rather to look at that righteousness of yours till you see what a delusion it is. It is not half so substantial as a cobweb. Be finished with it! Flee from it! Believe that the only persons that can need justification are those who are not just in themselves. They need something to be done for them to make them just before the judgment seat of God. Depend upon it, the Lord only does that which is needful. Infinite wisdom never attempts that which is unnecessary. Jesus never undertakes that which is superfluous. To make him just who is just is no work for God; that were a labor for a fool. But to make him just who is unjust, that is work for infinite love and mercy. To justify the ungodly is a miracle worthy of God, and it is.
Now, look. If there be anywhere in the world a physician who has discovered sure and precious remedies, to whom is that physician sent? To those who are perfectly healthy? I think not. Put him down in a district where there are no sick persons, and he feels that he is not in his place. There is nothing for him to do. “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick” (Mark 2:17). Is it not equally clear that the great remedies of grace and redemption are for the sick in soul? They cannot be for the whole, for they cannot be of use to such. If you feel that you are spiritually sick, the Physician has come into the world for you. If you are altogether undone by reason of your sin, you are the very person aimed at in the plan of salvation. I say that the Lord of love had just such as you are in His eye when He arranged the system of grace. Suppose a man of generous spirit were to resolve to forgive all those who were indebted to him; it is clear that this can only apply to those really in his debt. One person owes him a thousand pounds, and another owes him fifty pounds; each one has but to have his bill receipted, and the liability is wiped out. But the most generous person cannot forgive the debts of those who do not owe him anything. It is out of the power of Omnipotence to forgive where there is no sin. Pardon, therefore, cannot be for you who have no sin. Pardon must be for the guilty. Forgiveness must be for the sinful. It would be absurd to talk of forgiving those who do not need forgiveness or pardoning those who have never offended.
Do you think that you must be lost because you are a sinner? This is the reason why you can be saved. Because you realize that you are a sinner, I would encourage you to believe that grace is ordained for such as you. One hymn writer even dared to say:
A sinner is a sacred thing: The Holy Ghost hath made him so.
It is true that Jesus seeks and saves that which is lost. He died and made a real atonement for real sinners. When men are not playing with words or calling themselves “miserable sinners” in false humility, I feel overjoyed to meet with them. I would be glad to talk all night to bona fide sinners. The inn of mercy never closes its doors upon such, neither on weekdays nor on Sunday. Our Lord Jesus did not die for imaginary sins, but His heart’s blood was spilled to wash out deep crimson stains which nothing else can remove.
He that is a dirty sinner is the kind of man that Jesus Christ came to make clean. A Gospel preacher on one occasion preached a sermon from, “Now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees” (Luke 3:9), and he delivered such a sermon that one of his hearers said to him, “One would have thought that you had been preaching to criminals. Your sermon ought to have been delivered in the county jail.” “Oh, no,” said the goodman, “if I were preaching in the county jail, I should not preach from that text, there I should preach ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Tim. 1:15). This is true.” The Law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride; the Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.
If you are not lost, what do you want with a Saviour? Should the shepherd go after those who never went astray? Why should the woman sweep her house for the pieces of money that were never out of her purse? No, the medicine is for the diseased; the quickening is for the dead; the pardon is for the guilty; liberation is for those who are bound; the opening of eyes is for those who are blind. How can the Saviour and His death upon the cross and the Gospel of pardon be accounted for unless they be upon the supposition that men are guilty and worthy of condemnation? The sinner is the Gospel’s reason for existence. If you are undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving, you are the sort of man for whom the Gospel is ordained and arranged and proclaimed. God justifies the ungodly.
I want to make this very plain. I hope that I have done so already. But, still, plain as it is, it is only the Lord who can make a man see it. At first it does seem most amazing to an awakened man that salvation should really be for him when he is lost and guilty. He thinks that it must be for him when he is penitent, forgetting that his penitence is a part of his salvation. “Oh,” he says, “but I must be this and that,” all of which is true, for he shall be this and that as the result of salvation. But salvation comes to him before he has any of the results of salvation. It comes to him, in fact, while he deserves only this bare, beggarly, base, abominable description: ungodly. That is all he is when God’s Gospel comes to justify him.
May I, therefore, urge upon any who have no good thing about them — who fear that they have not even a good feeling or anything whatever that can recommend them to God — to firmly believe that our gracious God is able and willing to take them without anything to recommend them, and to forgive them spontaneously, not because they are good, but because He is good. Does He not make His sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good? Does He not give fruitful seasons and send the rain and the sunshine in their time upon the most ungodly nations? Yes, even Sodom had its sun, and Gomorrah had its dew. The great grace of God surpasses my conception and your conception, and I would have you think worthily of it. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God’s thoughts above our thoughts. He can abundantly pardon. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; forgiveness is for the guilty.
Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are, but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. A great artist some time ago had painted a picture of a part of the city in which he lived, and he wanted, for historic purposes, to include in his picture certain characters well known in the town. A street sweeper who was unkempt, ragged, and filthy, was known to everybody, and there was a suitable place for him in the picture. The artist said to this ragged and rugged individual, “I will pay you well if you will come down to my studio and let me paint you.” He came around in the morning, but he was soon sent away, for he had washed his face, combed his hair, and donned a respectable suit of clothes. He was needed as a beggar and was not invited in any other capacity. Even so, the Gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifieth the ungodly, and that takes you up where you now are; it meets you in your worst estate.
Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you that are the very sweepings of creation; come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon your bosom like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. Why should He not? Come, for this great mercy of God is meant for such as you. I put it in the language of the text, and I cannot put it more strongly: the Lord God Himself takes to Himself this gracious title, “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” He makes just, and causes to be treated as just, those who by nature are ungodly. Is not that a wonderful word for you? Do not delay till you have considered this matter well.
13 June 2007
Wife of John Knox
By J. H. Alexander
MRS. BOWES and her daughter, Marjorie, were among the gentry of Berwick-upon-Tweed at the time when John Knox was posted there by Archbishop Cranmer in 1548. Knox was forty-four and only on the threshold of his great career. His appointment as an itinerant preacher was a new one. It arose in this way. Cranmer had been given authority under King Edward VI and his Protector to spread the Reformation throughout England, but how could this be achieved in practice? English Bibles were put in the churches and there was much interest in the Reformed doctrines, but there was also great ignorance and secret animosity in bishops and people alike. To place godly ministers in appropriate pulpits did not seem enough. Then they hit upon the excellent plan of inviting learned Protestants from the Continent and placing them, some as professors at the universities to raise a body of enlightened young men, and some as itinerant preachers. Knox had, two years before this, been captured at St. Andrews by the French and put to the galleys. On his release he dared not show himself in Scotland because of his outspoken sermons there just before his capture. But he had hardly arrived in London before he was recommended to the council for this work of teacher-preacher, and was very soon allocated to Berwick, an important garrison town. The work appealed greatly to him. He threw himself into it with zeal and love, soon causing a remarkable change of heart in the district as well as an improvement in manners, notably in the garrison.
Mrs. Bowes had already been drawn from popery towards the Reformed doctrines but now ‘received from his sermons much instruction and pleasure. She highly esteemed his talents and character’ and became as a mother to him. During those two years a mutual attachment sprang up between Knox and Marjorie Bowes, and before he left Berwick he ‘made faithful promise to her before witnesses’. However, Mr. Bowes, Sir Robert his elder brother, and some other relations were opposed to the match, partly through family pride and partly from lack of sympathy with the Reformation. On this account the marriage was postponed and sorrowful letters reveal the wounded feelings on the part of Knox and Marjorie towards their relations. By this time Knox had become one of King Edward’s royal chaplains (Latimer, Bradford, and Grindal were other names), vested with more authority but still itinerating, sometimes in London, sometimes in the West Country, sometimes North again. But 1553 came. The young king died. Queen Mary came to the throne. Knox, up in Berwick, now married his Marjorie, though her father still disliked the union. The ladies were anxious that Knox should live permanently in the district, out of danger’s way, and Mrs. Bowes earnestly pleaded for her husband to use some of his ample means to settle them in a suitable home, but nothing would persuade him to it. Nor would Knox give up his work, which now held grave danger. Poor Marjorie had to live under the constant frown of her father and great anxiety for her husband. Courtiers and learned men who had had to tolerate the bold words of the royal chaplains now turned on them and the lives of these godly men were in jeopardy. Knox, back in London, narrowly escaped death and fled to France.
With him out of the way, Marjorie and her mother were now subjected to quite a persecution from the father’s side of the family, not so much for holding the Reformed doctrines as for foolishness in not conforming to the ruling of the moment. But neither of them would yield. In spite of a timidity of character (indeed Mrs. Bowes was a women of deep abasement of spirit for whose encouragement Knox wrote his ‘Fort for the Afflicted’, an exposition of Psalm 6) they ‘determined not to forsake upon any consideration the faith which they had embraced from full conviction of its truth’. Knox confirmed them in this by his letters ‘. . . Continue stoutly to the end and bow you never before that idol, and so will the rest of worldly troubles be unto me more tolerable. . . . Comforting myself I appear to triumph that God shall never suffer you to fall in that rebuke.’ Throughout this persecution they were able secretly to meet a few like-minded persons, and although deprived of preaching they regularly enjoyed a simple form of worship together.
There came a happy reunion ‘at the close of harvest 1555’ but Knox really wished to make a secret journey into Scotland. Meeting his friends there he found ‘an ardent thirst for the Word’ and could not tear himself away. Eventually Marjorie and her mother, who was now a widow, joined him in Edinburgh, moving about from friend to friend. It was too dangerous for him to settle, and when the next year he received an invitation to become pastor to the English congregation in Geneva he felt he should accept. Marjorie and her mother bade adieu to their friends ‘with no small dolour to their hearts and unto many of us’ says Knox, and set sail from Leith to Dieppe. After visiting and taking farewell of the brethren in different places (like Paul), Knox followed them.
For three years they lived peacefully in Geneva and two sons were born there. Marjorie was beloved by all who knew her abroad, Calvin calling her ‘a wife whose equal is not everywhere to be found’. (He had lost his Idelette seven years previously.) The friendship of Calvin, a little younger than himself, was precious to Knox, but all the time he felt to be in exile, so that when he received an invitation from the Scottish Protestant nobles he responded to it at once, and went home in January 1559, leaving his family until he felt assured of their safety in Scotland. They were duly sent for in June and made the tedious journey — licences and passports needed, much like today. Marjorie did not long survive the settlement in Scotland. Though he now had a regular ministry and a ‘comfortable establishment for her and her children’ it was too late. She died at the close of that year, leaving this blessing to her two sons, Nathaniel and Eleazar, ‘that God, for his Son Christ Jesus’ sake, would of his mercy make them his true fearers, and as upright worshippers of him as any that ever sprang out of Abraham’s loins’.
The two boys grew up to be worthy sons of their godly parents. Both trained at St. John’s College, Cambridge, one becoming a Fellow and the other a preacher at the college.
It was about two years after the death of Marjorie that Mary, Queen of Scots arrived at Edinburgh, so that she never knew of the great troubles and conflicts between those two opposite characters, which is now almost all that the modern reader knows of Knox; events which have been highlighted and distorted in many a novel and television play.
12 June 2007
Idelette de Bure
Wife of Calvin
By J. H. Alexander
STRASBURG in the 1530s was an intensely interesting and lively city, second only to Wittenberg where Luther and his disciples presided. It had become the refuge of many persecuted people, chiefly, over the last ten years, from France. These were the first who had to escape from that country since the dawn of the Gospel there. Bucer and Capito were the Protestant pastors in Strasburg, and the hazardous course of the Reformation, the translation of the Bible, and the writings of Luther and others were the daily topics in university and market. There were open debates and almost daily lectures for the public.
Among the ordinary citizens attracted to these things was a John Storder from Liege, who, with his wife, Idelette de Bure of Guelderland, had come to live in Strasburg for the sake of the Gospel. We do not know if they were actually refugees or what their circumstances were, but they were of cultured mind, and are described as ‘persons of enlightened and ardent piety’. They were connected with the Anabaptists, who were at first a branch of the Protestant churches but later broke away from the faith as held by the Reformers.
One day news came that John Calvin had been invited to come and be pastor to the French congregation in Strasburg (he — a Frenchman). Everyone was interested in this news, for the name of this man was familiar with the French sector, and many of them had copies of his small book, The Institutes, then in just six chapters. He had written this book to clarify the confusion in the minds of both Protestants and papists as to what the Reformed doctrines really were, and why the martyrs had died.
They also knew that he and William Farel had just been expelled from Geneva and all were eager to welcome the young man. Bucer and Capito had procured him this appointment, though his own inclinations had been for a life of study at Basle. The council, too, had granted him the post of Professor of Theology at the university.
He arrived in September 1538 and at once took up his appointments. It was not long before the fame of his eloquence was being talked of everywhere, and John Storder and his wife went to hear him. They were charmed with his style of preaching, modest and yet clear in every point he took up. In his expositions of the Scriptures he showed great mastery, but above that his love for the divine Word shone in his face. His firm belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures impressed them too. They very soon gave up their attendance on the Anabaptists and attended the French church.
Calvin was also under duty to give a daily lecture on the Scriptures and to preach four times a week. Storder and Idelette attended as many as they could (they had two little children), and the deep doctrines of the Bible as expounded by this man of God entered their hearts. ‘They were persuaded of them and embraced them.’
They invited him to their home and warm friendship developed. They heard about the two amazing years he and William Farel had spent in Geneva battling with disputes in church and state. The Reformed ministers there had held up their hands loyally but an unruly section of the city had stirred up strife at every turn. Calvin’s great principle in church government was that holy things should not be given to the unholy, and that a profession of Christianity should carry with it a Christian walk in life. This principle would bring more purity into the church and morality and liberty into state government. Many had agreed with him, he told them, but many could not tolerate a rebuke on their lives or any restraint on them. Thus, finally, he and Farel had been banished from that wicked city — a turbulent place indeed, very different from Strasburg with its leaven of French scholarly families.
Calvin worked endlessly: he took his pastoral duties seriously; he lectured at the University; he enlarged his Institutes from six chapters to seventeen and saw it published. As a disputant, with his clear vision and sound theology as well as his ability to present arguments, he was chosen as deputy for Strasburg in several conferences which strove after unity, political (called by the Emperor) and religious (sponsored by the Pope’s representatives). In each case the result was a stalemate. Nothing could unite the Papacy and the Reformed religion. The only pleasure Calvin got from the first conference was a meeting with Philip Melancthon, a great joy to both men of God. He was very badly paid (the council only gave him a small stipend the third year he was there!) and doubtless the French refugees could hardly give him anything. He had a small interest in his father’s estate, but to his sorrow had to sell some of his books in order to live. The hospitality of the Storders must have been very welcome to him, though he never spoke about money. He loved to think of them, as they styled themselves, his disciples, and he on his side admired their knowledge and love of the truth and ‘the simplicity and sanctity of their lives’.
There were but two years of this happy friendship before sorrow came to the home. The plague! Dreaded word. And John Storder was its victim. A three-days’ illness was its course, and between one week and the next, Idelette was a widow and her little children fatherless. Was Calvin with them when this stroke fell? We do not know. It could not have been a raging epidemic for there is no mention of any others in the little circle getting it. The house would have to be ‘purged’ and then life went on as before. The young minister still came to his kind hostess and relaxed at her hearth. She cooked him a meal and listened to his troubles and joined in his evening devotions.
His position being secure and honourable in that strangers came to Strasburg specially to meet and converse with him, his friends thought he ought to marry and have a home of his own. (He was probably in modest lodgings.) He pondered the question himself and wrote to a friend that he would like a wife. ‘The only kind of beauty which can win my soul is a woman who is chaste, not fastidious, economical, patient, and who is likely to interest herself in my health.’ He also said, when actually negotiating a marriage with a lady at a distance ‘If she answers her reputation she will bring, in personal good qualities, a dowry large enough without any money at all.’ (This lady, however, failed in her reputation and Calvin’s negotiations came to a rapid end there.) All this time he was still coming to Idelette’s house, eating at her table, watching her attend to her little ones, and enjoying her conversation. It appears as though it was his friends who suggested to him, when he had given up his mind to living a single life, ‘What about the gentle Idelette?’ and his eyes opened to see her worth. She was about his own age, comely, kindly, and very intelligent. Suddenly he began to court her, and in a very few months married her. His friends all rejoiced with them and the occasion was celebrated with all hilarity and yet solemnity, as was the custom of the times. There is no record of the setting-up of a new home. Very likely he moved into the Storder house. It was a very happy union.
They had not been married more than six months when the first of three pressing invitations came to him to return to Geneva. The four most powerful syndics (councillors) who had banished him and Farel before were now gone — one to the scaffold, one to death, and two to flight. The city which had begun to see the moral advantages of a reformed system of religion was now in a state of great disorder and stood to lose its freedom if the papal party took over. All realized they needed an authoritative voice from pulpit and council-chamber, and their banished Calvin was the very one they needed. ‘But I dread’, wrote Calvin to Farel, ‘throwing myself into that whirlpool I found so dangerous.’ For several months letters kept arriving from the two Protestant ministers there and from many private citizens begging him to return. Finally Bucer, though loath to see him leave Strasburg, told him it was his duty to go. Calvin gave in. If Bucer thought it was his duty, that settled it. He consented, and Geneva immediately sent a mounted herald to escort him. ‘Loaded with honours from the magistrates’ he left alone, slowly, pausing awhile at Neufchâtel to confer with his dear friend, Farel. A week or two later three horses and a wagon were sent for Idelette and the furniture and a herald to protect her and her children.
A house was provided for them at the top of the rue des Chanoines, a house with a little garden behind and magnificent views of Lake Leman (Geneva) and the Jura Mountains to one side and the Alps on the other. Calvin was given a salary of 500 Genevese forms (about £120), twelve measures of corn, and two casks of wine. On his arrival he had been presented with a piece of cloth for a gown.
Calvin set about his new work immediately. ‘I declared’, he says ‘that a church could not hold together unless a settled government should be agreed on such as is prescribed to us in the word of God’ — a kind of Biblical church-state. He drew up a plan whereby a presbyterian consistory was interwoven with the magistracy, so that the morals of the people should not only be preached about but enforced and, if necessary, punished by the church, and failing that, the law. This plan was closely examined by the magistrates, adopted by the Two Hundred, accepted by the General Council, and then put to the vote by the people. All this within three months!
Unsympathetic historians have painted ‘Calvin’s Geneva’ as a dreary place where no one dared to smile and Calvin himself as a stern tyrant, but documents of the time show a different picture, and it must always be remembered that the Genevese people themselves voted agreement. ‘They engaged to frequent public worship regularly, to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord, to renounce all debauchery, all immoral amusements, to maintain simplicity in their clothing, frugality and order in their dwellings.’ When the great body of citizens filling St. Peter’s Cathedral raised their hands in agreement as each ordinance was read out and explained to them, it must have reminded Calvin of the wonderful scene when the Israelites vowed to Joshua that they would serve the Lord and obey his voice only.
It was one of the most inspiring moments in the social history of Europe — even of the world. Other reformers had broached some such ideals but none laid down such clear rules as Calvin, nor had such a free hand to see them put into practice.
Calvin — only thirty-two years old, remember, was now committed to an immense amount of civil work — committees met every week — as well as preaching, teaching, writing, and correspondence. He used to rise at 5 am. and begin dictating to a student. He was again expanding his Institutes for the third edition and was also writing a commentary on separate books of the Bible. Idelette in her loving care of his health and comfort was all that he could desire. By her cheerful, soothing words she would revive his spirits when, as sometimes, they were dejected almost to despair as the larger troubles of European Protestantism were added to his burdens. ‘Her counsel to him always was to be true to God at whatever cost; and that he might not be tempted from a regard for her ease and comfort to shrink from the conscientious performance of his duty, she assured him of her readiness to share with him whatever perils might befall him.’
In July 1542, the first year of the new regime getting under way in Geneva, a little son was born to them. Idelette was dangerously ill. Calvin wrote to his friend Peter Viret at Lausanne, whose wife was a close friend of theirs, ‘This brother, the bearer, will tell you in what anguish I now write to you. My wife has been delivered prematurely, not without extreme danger. May the Lord look down upon us in mercy!’ Idelette recovered and in this child the fondest hopes of the parents were centred. They regarded him with grateful hearts as the gift of that bountiful Benefactor whose ‘heritage’ children are. As often as they kneeled at the throne of grace he was the object of their fervent prayers. But to their great grief the little boy was early taken from them. Idelette was overcome. ‘Greet all the brethren’, writes Calvin to Viret, ‘and your wife, to whom mine returns her thanks for so much friendly and pious consolation. She could only reply by means of an amanuensis, and it would be very difficult for her even to dictate a letter. The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound by the death of our infant son. But He is himself a Father and knows what is necessary for his children.’
Two years later they had a daughter, but on 30 May of that year Calvin writes to Farel, ‘My little daughter labours under a continual fever’, and the dear child was presently dead. A third child was given them and in like manner taken away in infancy. These were deep griefs to Calvin and Idelette in the midst of their pressing duties. Popish writers from their hatred to Calvin have said cruel things. ‘He married Idelette’, writes one, ‘by whom he had no children, though she was in the prime of life, that the name of this infamous man might not be propagated.’ Some of these lying statements were made even in Calvin’s lifetime. ‘Baudouin twits me’, he writes, ‘with my want of offspring. The Lord gave me a son but soon took him away. Baudouin reckons this among my disgraces that I have no children. I have myriads of sons throughout the Christian world.’
As the fame of Geneva grew so did its population, with the influx of interested strangers, students wishing to train under Calvin, and refugees from France, Netherlands, England, and Italy.
A welcome refugee to Geneva at that time was Clement Marot, a French lyrical poet who had published a book of twenty-five psalms in metre, done from the French translation of the Book of Psalms. This book had spread with astonishing rapidity throughout the Reformed churches and was so popular, being sung to ballad tunes all over the countryside, that the Sorbonne had set a black mark against Marot’s name, and he had fled, first to Navarre, where Marguerite the Queen had very kindly housed him, and thence to Italy, back again to France, and now towards the end of his life to Geneva. Calvin and Idelette gave him help and hospitality. Calvin instantly saw the value of the versified psalms and got him to versify twenty-five more psalms, and this book of fifty was published in 1543, with a preface by himself. Editions were quickly published in France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, and the presses could hardly keep pace with the demand. It was a new thing for the congregation to take part in the service of the sanctuary. In the past the people had to stand silent as choir-boys sang in a dead language. There was not even respect among them! Now they knew what was going on and, better still, they could sing. It was lovely! It was inspiring!
Calvin also considered the importance of suitable tunes to match the dignity and beauty of the words, and applied to the most distinguished musicians of the day. William Franc of Strasburg responded, and to him we owe some beautiful Genevan tunes. Now would the noble ‘Old Hundredth’ be heard in the large churches, in the homes too. Christoffel records that at Appell am Zell the congregation became too large for the church and moved into the meadows. ‘The echo of their mountains awoke responsive to the voice of the preacher and the psalms with which they closed blended with the sound of the torrents.’
‘This one ordinance alone’, writes one historian, ‘contributed mightily to the propagation of the Gospel. It became an especial part of the morning and evening worship in the Christian homes.’ How Idelette must have delighted in this divine relaxation for her husband. She would teach the psalms to her little girls, just as the ministers taught them to the illiterate children who, though they could not read, would sing them in their peasant homes and thus again teach their parents. So the lovely words of David rang again upon the earth.
Clement Marot, a sick man after his perils, died in 1544. Some few years later Calvin asked Theodor Beza to do a complete Psalter.
In 1545 hundreds of Waldensians, driven by terrible persecution from their valleys, came over the Alps to Geneva. Calvin and his wife did their utmost for them in the way of hospitality, finding them lodgings and employment. Calvin set up a subscription for their relief and got the council to employ them in repairing the fortifications. In fact so zealous were they that they were blamed for being more careful of these strangers than of the native population.
For only five years did Geneva’s remarkable church-state flourish before cracks began to show in it. Although the ‘working members’ were elected each year and could be changed if proved unsuitable, there was a hard core in the Two Hundred that the state found it difficult to touch. This consisted of members of some of the old aristocratic and wealthy families. Used to an idle social life they began to chafe at the restraints and gradually a most vicious faction developed called the Libertines. Aiming at being no respecters of persons, the council judged the atrocities of these people impartially but roused them to great rage and unfortunately awakened some sympathy in many of the Two Hundred. A great crisis arose in December 1547 which threatened to ruin the little republic. It was Calvin himself they hated. A meeting was called and the Libertine members of the Two Hundred went sword in hand. Friends of the ministers begged them not to go. Idelette lay at home in a declining illness and with trepidation saw Calvin go alone to the council chamber. A great clamour arose. He looked undismayed and silence fell. ‘I know’, he said, ‘that I am the primary cause of these divisions. If it is my life you desire I am ready to die. If you desire once more to save Geneva without the Gospel, you can try.’ This challenge brought the council to its senses. The men remembered the old disorders and how they had sent imploringly to Strasburg for this very man. Peace fell upon the meeting and Calvin held out his hand to the ringleader.
But it was only a truce. ‘Not a week but might not be Calvin’s last in Geneva’ we read. And now his dear Idelette was fading. It was a very dark time to the Reformer. He was openly insulted in the streets, dogs were called by his name, and he saw that same ring-leader, Perrin, so ingratiating himself as to be voted First Syndic. He could see that the day would come when Geneva must stand or fall. We know that it did stand, and that the Libertines were defeated in a memorable scene six years later at the Lord’s Table, but Calvin did not know that, and his last days with Idelette were heavily clouded. Three days before her death he spoke to her about her own two children. ‘I have already commended them to the Lord’, she said. ‘That will not prevent me from caring for them’, he said. ‘I am sure you will not neglect the children whom you know to be commended to the Lord’, she answered. ‘This greatness of soul’, said Calvin later, ‘will influence me more powerfully than a hundred commendations would have done.’
‘O glorious resurrection’ were her dying words, ‘O God of Abraham and of all our fathers! Thy people have trusted in thee from the beginning and in all ages. None has been put to shame. I also will look for thy salvation.’ Calvin was with her at the end and ‘spoke to her of the happiness which he and she had enjoyed in each other during the period of their union (nine years only), and her exchanging an abode on earth for her Father’s house above’.
She died on April 1549. Calvin was only forty and had to face fifteen years (Hezekiah’s number) without her. During the whole of her illness she had been attended by the distinguished physician Benedict Textor, to whom, in grateful remembrance, Calvin dedicated his Commentary on II Thessalonians.
Calvin felt her death most keenly, but because he was able to discharge his duties without intermission his enemies have said he was heartless. ‘I do what I can’, he writes, ‘that I may not be altogether consumed with grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life; she was the faithful helper of my ministry.
My friends leave nothing undone to lighten, in some degree, the sorrow of my soul. . . . May the Lord Jesus confirm you by his Spirit, and me also under this great affliction, which certainly would have crushed me had not He whose office it is to raise up the prostrate, to strengthen the weak, and to revive the faint, extended help to me from heaven.’
Time alleviated the bitterness of his sorrow, but in thinking of Idelette he was often afterwards filled with heaviness, and in the longings of his weary spirit for the rest of Heaven, the thought of being associated for ever with her made even Heaven more desirable. From what he suffered in his heart on this occasion he was touched with a tenderer sympathy than he had previously felt for his brethren when visited with the same kind of trial. ‘How severe a wound’, he wrote to a friend who lost his wife, ‘the death of your most excellent wife has inflicted upon you I know from my own experience. I remember how difficult it was for me to master my grief. . . . May the Lord of your widowhood allay your sadness by the grace of His spirit, guide you by His spirit, and bless your labours.’
11 June 2007
Katherine von Bora--Wife of Luther
By J. H. Alexander
THE one thing most people know about Luther’s wife is that she was a nun. It was not by choice, however, that Katherine von Bora took the veil. At the age often she was put into a convent, probably on losing her parents. The convent was at Nimptch, a town of Saxony, and was ‘exclusively for young ladies of good family’. They led a secluded monotonous life, but were not, like some later orders, forbidden to speak together, nor was news of the outside world entirely withheld. In her early teens Katherine began to hear of Martin Luther, the Doctor of Divinity at Wittenberg’s new university, and his brave doings and astonishing doctrines. Actually he preached from the Bible to the common people in German, an unheard-of thing! Most services in those popish days were nothing but processions, choir-singing, and the Sacrament — seldom such a thing as a sermon. The priests hired out the part of sermon — making to the begging friars, who used to entertain the people with foolish legends.
When Katherine was seventeen, Dr. Luther had come as near to their convent as Grimma, six miles away, and reports of his sermons in that church seeped into the convent. One of the nuns was Magdalene von Staupitz, niece of the vicar-general of the Augustinians, the man who gave Luther his first Bible with the words, ‘Let the study of the Scriptures be your occupation’. From this had stemmed Luther’s conversion and devotion to the Bible. Magdalene had received some of Luther’s writings and had eagerly imbibed the Reformed doctrines. She gradually and secretly drew as many as eight other nuns to her way of thinking. Katherine was one of them. Over their endless embroidery, patient distilling of herbs, and so on, they contrived to whisper together, and were alert to every bit of ecclesiastical news from the outside world.
The Pope had sent a man, Tetzel, into Germany to sell ‘indulgences’, signed papers you could buy which said your sins were forgiven — even future ones, if you paid enough money. Was such a thing possible? Everyone was buying them. . . . A man came to Dr. Luther in the confessional and when the Doctor told him he could not pronounce an absolution unless he showed repentance and a desire to forsake his sin the man said he was already forgiven and showed him an indulgence he had bought. Dr. Luther said the paper was worthless in the sight of God and the man went away very angry. .. . There was to be a pilgrimage to the opening services in a fine new church the Elector had built in Wittenberg and everyone was going. Dr. Luther took the opportunity of nailing a paper on the new door giving ninety-five reasons why these indulgences were useless. In no time the paper was copied, then it was whisked away to the printing press and in less than a fortnight copies were all over Europe and everyone was talking about it. . . .
Katherine was eighteen at this time. How she listened to all these things. There were the debates the Doctor was called to with powerful cardinals, even before the Emperor; there was the famous Diet of Worms when he stood alone against ‘all the world’ saying of the Bible, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me’, and would not retract his faithful words against the Pope. That was a moment that thrilled all Germany — all Europe — to think that one man could defy the Pope and reason so well that he carried some of the German princes with him.. . . But now, suddenly, Dr. Luther vanished! Nothing was heard of him for ten months. Actually his friends had abducted him at a time of great danger and he was living in quietness at the Wartburg Castle. He was not idle there. By September 1522 his first translation of the New Testament in German came from the printers and could be bought for a form.
Although he was out of sight the liberty to which he had opened the door was bearing rapid fruits. The Elector of Saxony, his protector, of course saw the political advantage of shaking off the dominion of Rome and of the too-powerful Emperor, Charles V, but he also agreed with Luther’s writings and allowed Carlstad and the town council to establish fresh laws to abolish the Mass, to remove images, to annul the vow of celibacy, to clear some of the monasteries of their lazy inmates. One of these latter that was vacated was Grimmen itself, not so far from the convent. The news was all bewildering, almost staggering. . . . And then they heard that Dr. Luther had appeared again. The worst storm was over and he was back at his post at Wittenberg. There followed more conferences with high dignitaries — the ‘roaring’ theologian Dr. Eck among them — and finally news of his excommunication, and, more exciting even than that, the news that Dr. Luther had burned the Pope’s letter of excommunication!
The nuns went on with their embroidery, went on with their choir-singing, their devotions, but their heart was not in the business. A real unrest took hold of these nine: they longed to be free of the vows imposed on them, and to see something of this stirring world. They came to the decision to write in each case to their parents or guardians. We do not know to whom Katherine von Bora wrote — her origins lie in obscurity, though an aristocratic obscurity. In each case the answer was an alarmed No! And now Magdalene von Staupitz made a bold suggestion. She would write direct to Dr. Luther himself to help them! The eight girls agreed and the message reached Luther. Their appeal was not made in vain. Luther immediately put the case to one of the councillors of the city of Torgau, who undertook to rescue the nine nuns, while Luther pledged himself to provide for their maintenance. Koppe, with two equally bold friends, slipped a message to the nuns and, on the night of 14 April 1523, was waiting to lift them over their convent wall into a covered wagon. The rescue went off smoothly and though they had to travel six miles through Catholic country, the nuns, crouching behind barrels of herrings, were not discovered.
Luther had arranged for them to be received by an honourable citizen of Wittenberg, and eventually settled each one of them, some by suitable marriage and some into the homes of wealthy burghers. Katherine was taken into the family of Philip Reichenbach, burgomaster and town — clerk, where she was treated with the utmost kindness. She was there two years and became a valuable and happy member of the household. At least two suitors courted her but she was content to let them go as she gradually realized her affection for Dr. Luther himself. She had a natural dignity about her which Luther at first mistook for pride until he came to know her better and to admire her character. In letters to his friends he betrayed that he was toying with the idea of marriage and, after October 1524, when he discarded his monk’s robe for the coat of a Reformed preacher it seemed as though this gesture also cast aside the chains of celibacy. He wrote a boyish letter to his friend Spalatin urging him to marry and then saying that perhaps he, Luther, would get the start of him in this.
Rumours began to link his name with Katherine, especially as in a jocose way he often, when visiting at the house, would refer to her as ‘my Katy’.
His friends, and particularly his father, now began to urge him to practise what he preached. On getting to know what an enemy had said: ‘Should this monk marry, the whole world, and even the devil, would burst into shouts of laughter and he himself will destroy what he has built up’, Luther made a quick decision. Far from frightening him, these words determined him to help forward the cause of reform by encouraging others to break the vow of celibacy that had wrongfully held them in thrall. His mind once made up he acted immediately. Taking three friends with him he called upon Katherine, asked her hand in marriage, and at once formally betrothed the astonished girl to himself. The marriage followed in two weeks’ time, June 1525. Katherine was twenty-six, Luther forty-two.
The home he brought his bride to was part of the Augustine monastery he had entered as a young man. The monks had long deserted it and the prior had given it up to the Elector of Saxony, who converted it entirely for the use of the university. Hence Dr. Luther in his capacity as lecturer was granted a home there. He held a very happy wedding feast on the day he brought Katherine home, and had the joy of receiving his aged father and mother, whom friends had secretly brought to the celebration.
Luther's House at Wittenberg
All friends of the Reformation rejoiced at Luther’s marriage. The University of Wittenberg, which owed its fame and prosperity almost entirely to Luther, presented them with a fine gold cup, with engraved wording, and the city gave them a handsome ‘cellar’ of Rhenish wine, Burgundy, and beer. But of course Luther’s antagonists had plenty of malicious things to say. Even Erasmus, irritated at that juncture by something Luther had written, spread abroad some nasty scandal which he later had to withdraw and apologize for. The Peasants’ War had started around this time, and his enemies accused Luther of hard-heartedness in revelling in matrimony at a time of distress as if all marriage must cease when war was afoot!
If Luther had married primarily to demonstrate his Gospel preaching, it was soon found that his marriage brought nothing but blessing to this rugged warrior. It revealed an endearing tenderness in his tempestuous character that might never have emerged. In his Table Talk we read ‘The greatest blessing that God can confer on man is the possession of a good and pious wife with whom he may live in peace and tranquillity; to whom he can confide his whole possessions, even his life and welfare, and who bears him children. Katy, thou hast a pious man who loves thee for a husband; thou art a very empress, thanks be to God’!
He suffered much from ‘disorders’ arising partly from his earlier life of austerity and partly from his excessive labours. Katherine had learnt the use of herbal remedies in her convent and was able to give him relief from nervous pains. She also learnt how to humour him, and when he gave himself up to deep dejection she sometimes would send secretly for his friend, Justus Jonas, whose enlivening conversation would often restore Luther to cheerfulness and a little banter that showed the heavy cloud was passing over.
At the house of her former friends Katherine had learnt, as she had not in the convent, the art of housekeeping. She now proved herself an excellent housewife yet their purse was limited and she had to be very frugal while very hospitable. Luther liked to keep an open table for friends and students, but she found that he was also charitable even to excess, and it became her work to control some of this. Her admiration for him as a reformer had heightened as she saw his immense programme of writing, lecturing, preaching. His early hours of prayer and study she took care to leave to him undisturbed.
She was always anxious when he was called out of the town, and, in fact, when he was invited to his friend Spalatin’s wedding begged him not to go. So he wrote, ‘The tears of my Katy prevent me from coming. She thinks it would be perilous.’ Her premonitions proved correct. Luther had excited the resentment of four young nobles who had lost part of their inheritance through their parents receiving back their sisters rescued from the convent of Freiberg. It was discovered that these men had plotted to waylay and murder Luther on his way to the wedding. (Such were some of the side issues connected with the liberation of nuns!)
Two years after their marriage Luther was dangerously ill and in spite of night and day nursing by Katherine he felt he would die. He desired his two best friends to receive his confession of faith in case his enemies should announce to the world that he had recanted. Then he said ‘Where is my dearest Katy? Where is my little heart, my dear little John?’ She came to the bedside and he embraced mother and baby. ‘O my dear child,’ he said with tears, ‘I commend you to God, you and your good mother, my dear Katy. You have nothing, but God will take care of you. He is the Father of orphans and widows. . . . Katy,’ he added later, ‘you know I have nothing to leave you but the silver cups.’ She encouraged him, we read, with passages from the Scriptures, and as to herself she said, ‘My dearest doctor, if it is God’s will then I would rather that you should be with our beloved Lord God than with me. But it is not so much I and my child that need you as many pious Christians. Afflict not yourself about me. I commend you to His divine will but I trust in God that He will mercifully preserve you.’ Her hope of his recovery was not disappointed. On that very evening he began to feel better.
In 1530 the famous Diet of Augsburg was convened, when the Emperor Charles V and Campeggio the Pope’s Legate were to meet the Protestant princes and force them, as they hoped, into submission to the Roman Catholic faith. Luther and Melancthon had drawn up a declaration of doctrine, but the good Elector of Saxony did not wish Luther to be exposed to possible assassination and arranged for Melancthon to read the paper at Augsburg and Luther to remain at Coburg Castle, within distance for advising but outside the sphere of possible strife. Days and even weeks dragged on before everyone was assembled for such conferences, and Luther could not bear the inactivity in the silent castle with only one friend, Dietrich, with him. He sent home for his books and Katherine sent them out to him so that he was soon engrossed in continuing his Commentaries. This work, and constant prayer and anxiety about the momentous conference, told on his health again.
When news was received that his father had died Katherine knew he would be overwhelmed. To comfort him she had a portrait painted of his third child, Magdalene, then one year old, and sent it to him. He was delighted with this and ‘placed it on the wall over against the dining-table in the prince’s hall’. That Diet ended in a notable victory for the Protestants. The papists could not produce any arguments from ‘the Fathers’ to answer the Scripture doctrines so ably set out. Thirteen years before it had been one voice (Luther’s) against the Pope; now on a grander scale it was a phalanx of princes and free cities, won over to the Reformation, that triumphed against both the Emperor and the Papacy.
In 1540 Luther bought a small estate at Zolsdorf and gave it to Katherine, the Elector offering to supply her freely with timber for building. This little farm became a great interest to Katherine who made it thrive for the benefit of her household. She loved to have Luther and the children staying there whenever possible, and ‘he shared her child-like joy in the products of her farm’. ‘My lord Katy’, he wrote once to a friend, ‘has just set out for her new kingdom, and will take with her a load of timber and attend to some other matters. Katy is living bodily at Wittenberg but in spirit at Zolsdorf.’
The place was a haven of rest for Luther, but its joys were soon overshadowed by the death, two years later, of the favourite daughter, Magdalene, at fourteen years of age. Luther and Katherine had six children altogether, their first little girl having died in infancy. They had experienced a lot of sickness with the children and domestics and perhaps did not think Magdalene’s sudden illness was to be fatal. But so it was. The night before her death Katherine dreamed that two beautiful youths in elegant attire asked her daughter in marriage. She told this dream to Luther and to Melancthon who had come to visit them. Melancthon was deeply moved and said, ‘The two youths are angels who are come to lead the maiden to the true wedlock of the celestial kingdom.’ These words soothed Katherine. She and Luther spent the day in prayer and supplication on her behalf. As the end drew near Luther fell on his knees at her bedside in an agony resigning her to God. Then, bending over her bed, he said with touching sweetness, ‘Magdalene, my dear daughter, you would be glad to remain here with your father, but are you willing to depart and go to that other Father?’
‘Yes, dear father,’ she said in a faint but calm voice, ‘just as God pleases.’
‘Unable to express his emotion at these words’ says the chronicler ‘which came to his heart with a thrilling tenderness, he turned aside to conceal the tears in his eyes, and looking upward exclaimed, "If the flesh is so strong how will it be with the spirit? Well, whether we live or die we are the Lord’s." She expired in his arms.’
Katherine was in the room, but bowed with sorrow. She knew it was her duty to be resigned but nature would have its way and she wept bitterly. Luther said to her ‘Dear Katherine, think where she has gone. She has certainly made a happy journey. With children everything is simple. They die without anguish, without disputes, without the temptations of death and without bodily grief, more as if they were falling asleep.’
Their grief revived when they saw the dear child in her coffin. To comfort Katherine and himself, Luther said, ‘You, dear Lene [Magdalene], you will rise again and shine like a star, yea as the sun. I am joyful in spirit though sorrowful in the flesh. We, dear Katherine, should not lament as though we had no hope. We have dismissed a saint, yea, a living saint for heaven. O that we could so die. Such a death I would willingly accept this very hour.’
The vigour of Luther’s life was really beginning to ebb and the death of this dear girl aged him prematurely. Things politically were in a great state of upheaval and he hardly felt equal to his work. He mourned over the wicked state of the city and began to plan to retire permanently to the farm. His friends were alarmed to think of losing their adviser, but he was actually in the act of packing up when a deputation from the university and even from the Elector himself came to implore him not to leave them. Almost sorrowfully he re-settled himself.
Soon afterwards he was asked to go to Eisleben to settle a dispute between the Counts of Mansfeld about the mines. Here he had been born, here baptized, and here it was he was to die. He was unsuccessful in his arbitration, and was invited again some weeks later. This was January 1546. He was this time accompanied by his three sons (the eldest would be about twenty) and his friend, Dr. Jonas, on what was considered a very delicate mission. He had come away feeling unwell and Katherine, very anxious, had packed him some remedies which generally helped him. Following this up with tender letters she received this reply:
‘To the gracious Dame Katherine Luther, my dear spouse, who is tormenting herself quite unnecessarily, grace, peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Dear Katherine you should read St. John and what the catechism says respecting the confidence we ought to have in God. You afflict yourself just as if God were not all powerful and able to raise up new Dr. Martins by dozens should the old Dr. Martin be drowned in the Salle or perish in any other way. There is One who takes care of me in His own manner better than you and all the angels could ever do. He sits by the side of the Almighty Father. Tranquillize yourself, then. Amen.’
On 14 February when he wrote another letter to her he was so well that he anticipated returning home within that week, but he suddenly fell sick, and sank so rapidly that in the early morning of the 18th he died before she could be brought to his side.
She was overwhelmed, but was consoled to hear an account of his deathbed. His prevailing language had been prayer, adoration, and trust in God. Among his last words were these: ‘O my Heavenly Father, eternal and merciful God, Thou hast revealed to me Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Him I have preached, Him I have confessed. Him I love and worship as my dearest Saviour and deliverer whom the ungodly persecute and blaspheme. Receive my poor soul. O Heavenly Father, although I must quit this body and am hurried away from this life, yet I certainly know that I shall abide eternally with Thee and that none can pluck me out of Thy hand.’
The body was brought back to Wittenberg and given an honourable funeral, thousands attending at the Castle church.
‘Thus was Katherine bereaved of him who, by delivering her from a convent, had, as it were, rescued her from a living grave; who had been first her kindest friend and then her loving faithful husband.’ Luther’s will reflects a deep love for Katherine and care for his children in the guardians he chose for them. Many were the condolences she received from princes and ministers, but her widowhood of seven years was almost unmitigated tribulation. All might have gone well with her through the kind promises of patrons but for the outbreak of a long-anticipated war between the Emperor and the Protestant princes. Katherine’s beloved little farm lay directly in the path of the war, heavy war-taxes impoverished her and many others, and the whole disastrous upheaval diverted the attention of her benefactors, sincere as their promises had been. The Elector of Saxony, Luther’s best friend, was captured, and the Emperor’s army advanced on Wittenberg. Katherine and her children fled to Brunswick. After some weeks a proclamation inviting citizens to return was issued from Wittenberg, and she was able to come home. She was now nearly penniless and let some of her apartments and tried to board some students. Not until four imploring letters had gone to the King of Denmark (once a staunch supporter of Luther) did she receive a reply and a small gift. ‘I often think of that man of God, Dr. Martin Luther,’ wrote a friend, ‘how he made his wife commit to memory Psalm 31 when she was young, vigorous, and cheerful and could not then know how this psalm would afterwards be so sweet and consolatory to her in her sorrows’, which he seemed to anticipate.
In 1552 the plague broke out in Wittenberg and as the university had removed to Torgau Katherine thought she would go there too. On the way she was thrown from the wagon on the edge of a lake and was lifted out of the water severely bruised. She did not recover from this accident but died three months later at the age of fifty-three. ‘I will cleave to my Lord Christ’, she said, ‘as the burr to the cloth.’
In spite of the continued poverty poor Katherine had suffered from, her children were not forgotten of God. She had brought them through their teens, and at the time of her death the eldest, John, was a councillor of state to Elector John Frederick II; Martin, a delicate lad, studied theology. Paul was the most gifted and he studied medicine and took his degree and was for a short time Professor of Medicine at the University of Jena and later a court physician. Margaret married a nobleman, a great admirer of her father, and had nine children.