Posts Tagged ‘Reformation Day’

This posting is a follow-up to the previous one regarding Lucas Cranach the Elder‘s painting, “The Allegory of Law and Grace“.

There is not one painting with the theme of Law and Grace by Lucas Cranach the Elder, but many paintings and in addition his drawings and woodcuts on the same theme.  This theme was so popular that another German artist, Hans Holbein the Younger painted the same allegory.

Lucas Cranach and his family were friends of the Luthers.  Their friendship in Christ is most likely responsible for the differences between two paintings of the theme Law and Grace by the artist.  Note the differences below.  The first one is the earlier Prague painting, the next one is the later Gotha painting.  What are the differences?  


“Gotha” Type

Let’s first look at the less obvious change.  In the “Prague” painting, on the Law side we see depicted a group of tents in the background illustrating the narrative of the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8-10  ) which our Lord used to describe His Messianic role, see John 3:13-15 Note that in the second painting the “Gotha” panel it has been moved into the Gospel side.  John Dillenberger in his book, Images and Relics in the time of the Reformation and the Renaissance, notes the high probability, given the friendship between Cranach and Luther that Cranach  made this change of  depiction, because Cranach had bee more fully catechized by Dr. Luther.  But why the change?

 Luther did not distinguish between law and gospel in terms of Old Testament and New Testament, for there was law in the New Testament, and gospel in the Old. The other subjects fell easily into either the Old or New Testament divisions. But law and gospel did not easily fall into one or the other testament, thus requiring a decision. The scene of the serpents that devoured the people, who then were saved by their looking at the elevated serpent, is recorded in the Old Testament; but it is actually the symbol of grace. The church had interpreted the serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ having been lifted up. Luther, looking at the Cross, could…speak of the “brazen serpent Christ,” thereby showing his radical reading of the Old Testament from a Christological perspective.[1]

A correction on the quote above:  the Church did not interpret the bronze serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ’s crucifixion, no, Christ did! Again, Luther did not come up with “his radical reading of the Old Testament” from the perspective of the accomplishment of salvation in Jesus Christ  (“christological”) on his own.  St. Augustine centuries earlier said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. This unity of Testaments in Jesus Christ is inherent in the texts of both Old and New Testaments,  Dillenberger is right on target, though, that the notion that the OT   equals Law and NT equals Gospel/Grace is incorrect.

Now to the obvious difference in the paintings:  the Man, that is Adam, in the earlier painting is smack dab in the middle.  In the later painting, he is on both sides. Dillenberger in the quote above correctly wrote that the earlier painting suggests a decision by Adam as to which side he wants to be in.  Indeed, Luther may just have corrected his friend!

“…the Gotha panel becomes the norm, perhaps because it was closer to what Luther meant. It provided a picture of the ramifications of law and gospel for each person, rather than a demand that either law or gospel be accepted.[2]

It sure looks like in the earlier panel Adam, that is all of us, needs to make our decision for Christ.  The panel of the Law shows the depth of sin, death and the power of the devil.  Only the spiritual use of the Law, showing us our sin, can we know the depths. First, given the graphic illustration of the Law, it’s a “no brainer” as to a decision!  But even so the Old Adam tenaciously will hold onto the “dearest souvenirs of hell”(C. S. Lewis). And the subtle serpent will not present himself so baldy, but in disguise as “light”. We can not make the move by our decision from the left panel to the right panel:  only the Lord can and has through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel does the Holy Spirit literally transfer us from Law to Grace:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14/ emphasis my own)

So that, we are not under Law but under grace:

 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6: 13-14)

The Law is necessary in the second panel to show us our sin and point us ever to our Savior lifted up on the Cross, so we do not present our “members” as instruments for unrighteousness, but      “…to God as instruments for righteousness”, because as the Apostle plainly states, “SINCE,  you are not under law but under grace.” (emphasis my own).  Luther posted his 95 Theses on purpose on the eve of All Saints Day, November 1.  The second painting depicts more closely the Scripture and the verses cited.  It is a wonderful reminder not only of God’s grace in Jesus Christ but the power of His overwhelming  Sacrifice which alone, ALONE transfers us  in His rule and reign, saints by grace, not our works, so that by His grace we will produce fruit pleasing in His sight. So note, the tree in the middle is fruitless on the law side, but fruitful unto salvation in Jesus. 

By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone

Blessed Reformation Day and All Saints Day!

[1] Pages 98-100, Images and Relics by John Dillenberger (Oxford University Press, 1999)

[2] Page 100, ibid

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The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress

            You all know some Hebrew.  In fact, we speak Hebrew every Sunday and  I hope every day.  Hallelujah!  Hallel Praise/Jah, short for Yahweh, or the LORD, Praise the Lord.  I hope there is hallelujah in your life daily to our Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of shaking of the foundations.  Another word, Sabbath, as in remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  We are keeping it holy because we need His Word of life for faith to be fed and the fruit of faith, love, to be engendered for the week ahead and every day.  Another word:  Amen!  So be it!  Truly! Yes! I hope you pray daily His Word and say the Amen. I should be certain that these petitions are acceptable to our Father in heaven and heard; for He Himself has commanded us so to pray, and has promised that He will hear us. Amen, Amen; that is, Yea, yea, it shall be so. (Luther) This is confident word of faith to the Lord from His Word that He will accomplish His word amongst us.  In Psalm 46 the refrain is The LORD of hosts is with us: the Hebrew word for “with us” is IMMANU.  And this is another Hebrew word you know in a different form:  Immanu-el, el, short for elohim, or God:  God with us.  This is a name for Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew’s Holy Gospel:  Jesus Christ is God with us.  He alone has saved us from sin, death and the power of the devil that fallen man thinks by which  he can make himself good.

I chose the hymns today with the simple criterion:  written by Martin Luther.  But unintentionally I see this:

“From Heaven above to earth I come”:  Christmas, or Christ Mass. Christ Jesus is born!  Immanu-el, God is with us.

““O Lord, We Praise You”:  Luther adapted and expanded this medieval communion hymn singing of the One born of Mary who died and rose for all mankind and by that He gives us Body and Blood for the nourishment of our souls in true repentance and the love of and for the Lord.  Right in the middle of the Liturgy is His Cross and His risen Body and Blood:  Immanu-el, God is with us.

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:  My Dad once said to me you have  to choose a recessional hymn which we can go out humming.  “A mighty fortress” certainly fills my Dad’s advice!  This hymn, this sung prayer is our daily prayer in the midst of the kingdoms and nations raging and tottering and the earth quaking and seas roaring in daily life.  :  Immanu-el, God is with us.

The Scripture text that is the basis of  A Mighty Fortress is our God is Psalm 46. Israel saw the tumult of the earth and were afraid.  Worse:  the tumult of the nations raging and tottering and the LORD spake and the “earth melts”.  Now Luther did not write this hymn to express his own religious or spiritual feelings but to interpret and apply the 46th Psalm to the church of his own time and its struggles amidst the nations.  Luther wrote hymns not as a means for self-expression but to serve his fellow believers.  By the Lord’s mighty Word made flesh in Jesus Christ for us sinners, Luther is still so serving his fellow believers today in the Word of God Psalm 46 through his hymn.  Yes, the Lord was in His Temple in Jerusalem but fully the Psalmist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is praying and singing that it is not trust in a place, Jerusalem, that saves but the Presence:  THE LORD is immanu, with us.  He is our mighty fortress. 

Earthquakes, the raging of the nations, the tottering of empires, the rage of the hurricane over the ocean…sounds like a Psalm and a hymn “ripped from the headlines”and fear planted into our hearts.  Then in the Psalm comes the Lord’s command:  “Be still and know that I am God.” which taken as counsel sounds contrary to all human wisdom.  It is.  Don’t we have to do something?  Form a task force, initiate a government program, build windmills, send the army, launch an attack, call the UN together, buy a self-help book, get my act together, keep my nose clean, reinvent myself…we have to save our planet, our nation, ourselves, after all, without us we can’t be saved.  No, be still and know that I am God. As if the Lord were telling us:

“See, you are not God, but I am. I created you, and I recreate you; I formed you, and I form you anew; I made you, and I remake you. If you had no power to make yourself, how do you propose to remake yourself?” (St. Augustine)

 When the people of Israel had been freed from Egypt, right after the first Passover, the armed might of the Egyptian Empire, Pharoah, considered to be a god, went in hot-pursuit of what he considered his chattel property.  The Israelites then were faced with Red Sea and the whole host of Pharoah behind them.  Israel cried out to Moses Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Moses responded:   Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today… 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” It seems as if the Lord silenced one Martin Luther, dead in his tracks, trying to save himself by recreating himself spiritually in a monastery. He found out he could not. The Law of God silenced Martin.  Martin was full of fear that though an “impeccable monk” he could not fulfill God’s Law.   Be still, Martin, and know that I am God and God showed Luther the cross of His beloved Son Jesus Christ and the love which stretched out His hands to him, to us.  The just shall live by faith in Jesus Christ who gave up himself for me and thee. And around and through and because of the  Cross comes the Word of God:  Be still and know that I am God. And God, Jesus Christ was utterly silenced:  Into Your Hands I commend my spirit.  And He died.  You can not storm heaven or take by violence. He is risen to bring you to Himself, Immanu-el.  You can save a dime but not your time.  Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners and tax collectors and Martin and you and I. Not to accept them but forgive and transform them.  As much as we think we control good and evil, it is good and evil that controls us and nothing inside can change it. Without our help He did us make without our help He did us save.  Immanu-el.

We may all know enough of Medieval history that castles, fortresses, stone strong dotted all the landscape of Europe.  The peasants lived outside the castle farming.  When enemies threatened they fled for refuge to the strong castle of their Lord for protection, safety and peace in the attacks of the enemy in siege warfare.  There in the castle strong they were in a sense silenced. This is probably what’s behind Luther’s great hymn.  The people needed a safe place, a home, without fear.   A place of love and care where no one would fear. We flee for refuge in our bank account and with every up or down of Wall Street main street quakes.  We look for the brightest and the best and many of them do some of the dumbest and worse things possible and on TV.  But human fortresses are very much pregnable but this fortress has a stream which makes glad the city of God:  your baptism.  . The Lord fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit: 

the breastplate of righteousness

shoes for  the gospel of peace

the shield of faith

the helmet of salvation

the belt of truth

the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

We shall wield these weapons, but they will not come from ourselves.  Immanu-El, God is with us.

 With a son of coal miner who studied law and  became monk, Luther or an academic bookworm fluent in ancient languages, Philip Melancthon, I can not think of a more unlikely cast of characters to start a reformation.  But they did not start it. Luther was sensible of it:  Immanu-el.  After the Diet of Wurms, when Luther was branded an outlaw any one in the Holy Roman Empire could have killed him, Luther’s ruler, Frederick the Wise, had Luther captured in the night leaving Worms. Luther thought he was a goner.  Instead Elector Frederick imprisoned him for his own safety in the caste of Wartburg.  In his confinement, Luther began translating the New Testament into German.  But he heard that back in his church in Wittenberg that the pastor, Karlstadt, was trying to change everything much to quickly and literally causing riots:  you can still see a broken statue of the Virgin Mary.  Luther went back and for 8 days in Lent preached some of the greatest sermons ever:  the Invocavit Sermons.  In one of the them, he speaks of the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself reforming, uplifting and pacifying as only Luther could:

For the Word created heaven and earth and all things [Ps. 33:6]; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners. In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf,6 the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

 In the crush of the daily burdens, when the news is bleak, when there are fightings and fears within and without, don’t go running hither and yon or when in doubt run in circles scream and shout, you won’t go far and going to the bar won’t help.  Be still.  The Lord of hosts is with us.  Call upon Him while He is near.  Repent, confess, pray, sing, a mighty fortress is our God.  Hallelujah. Amen.  Sabbath.  In the old Lutheran Hymnal there is a prayer of confession which as a kid I always loved and still do which evokes the mighty fortress in time of  stress, striving and sin.  Let us pray…

Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess untoThee that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against Thee by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 The Lord has had mercy upon you.

























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