“A Lonely Monk, Now Long Ago” (Sermon and hymn for Reformation Day, on Psalm 119:46, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“A Lonely Monk, Now Long Ago” (Psalm 119:46)

A Lonely Monk, Now Long Ago

A lonely monk, now long ago,
Nailed truth upon a door;
The echoes of that hammer blow
Rang out to many more.
And when he spoke his “Here I stand,”
Although he could be slain,
Throughout the realm a growing band
Soon followed in his train.

Confessors, princes, duty bound,
To Augsburg bold they came;
Before the king they stood their ground
And were not put to shame.
Their good confession made that day
Proved not to be in vain;
Gird us their sons, Lord, that we may
Still follow in their train.

With confidence in Christ alone,
Our faith we will confess;
For Jesus’ death made us His own,
And now He lives to bless.
Our Savior leads us heavenward,
Eternal life to gain;
Confessing truth that we have heard,
We follow in His train!

Text: Charles Henrickson, © 2012
Tune: All Saints New (LSB 661, 678)

The hymn we just sang tells the story of the Reformation, that great movement of God in the 16th century in which the pure gospel of Christ was recovered and brought to the forefront again. It is the story of Martin Luther, the great reformer of the church, whom God used in such a mighty way. It is the story of those who stood with Luther, the confessors at Augsburg, for instance. But the story of the Reformation, the story told in this hymn–this is our story, too. For we too have truth to declare. We too have the same faith to confess, the faith once delivered to the saints, the eternal gospel that Luther proclaimed so loud and clear.

As a scriptural text for this Reformation Day message, we can use the verse that the Lutheran confessors saw as fitting their situation, Psalm 119:46: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings, [O Lord,] and shall not be put to shame.” And as a way to tell the story of the Reformation as our story, too, we will use the lines of the hymn we just sang.

The hymn begins:

A lonely monk, now long ago,
Nailed truth upon a door . . .

That “lonely monk” was Martin Luther, of course, and the “long ago” was October 31, 1517. That’s why we always celebrate Reformation Day at the end of October, because it was on that date, October 31, in the year 1517, that Luther literally “nailed truth upon a door.” Luther had written 95 Theses, or propositions, regarding the sale of indulgences in the church. Indulgences were certificates from the pope promising years off from purgatory for those who purchased them, either for the buyer himself or on behalf of some departed loved one. The whole operation was a bogus money-making scheme with no basis in Scripture, either for the concept of purgatory or for the idea that you could buy your way into heaven. Luther had begun to see the errors that the sale of indulgences was promoting. It was enabling people to bypass true repentance and faith, since now they could simply buy an indulgence to cover sins and gain favor from God. This was wrong, and Luther saw it. And he did something about it. He wrote those 95 Theses and posted them on the door of the church there in Wittenberg, which was basically a public bulletin board, and he proposed a theological debate on these theses, which challenged the practice of indulgences.

A lonely monk, now long ago,
Nailed truth upon a door;
The echoes of that hammer blow
Rang out to many more.

Well, they didn’t have the internet back then, but they did have the printing press. And so Luther’s 95 Theses got printed and were circulated far and wide. People were reading what Luther wrote, and they were thinking and talking about it. And guess what? The sale of indulgences dropped off. The truth that Luther was speaking and writing about was bad for business back at headquarters in Rome. This little monk from Wittenberg got the pope’s attention. Luther was gaining an audience and a following. Over the next couple of years, he continued to speak out and write against other errors that had crept into the Roman church. And so, from Rome’s perspective, Luther had to be stopped.

In early 1521, the pope excommunicated Luther. Then in April of 1521, the emperor, Charles V, summoned Luther to appear before him at the Diet of Worms. It was demanded of Luther that he recant, that he take back the things he had written criticizing the Roman church. He refused. Luther stood before the emperor, the most powerful man on earth, and he said: “I cannot and will not recant. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” After that meeting at Worms, the emperor declared Luther to be an outlaw, meaning that anyone could kill him without fear of penalty.

This is where the hymn picks up the story:

And when he spoke his “Here I stand,”
Although he could be slain,
Throughout the realm a growing band
Soon followed in his train.

Thank God, Luther was not killed. In God’s providence, Luther’s prince, the Elector of Saxony, protected his subject. Luther was able, therefore, throughout the 1520s to go on speaking and writing and doing the work necessary for reforming the churches in their doctrine and practice. The Reformation was spreading and taking hold in many territories.

Now we come to 1530. The emperor summoned the princes of those territories that had accepted Luther’s teaching–he called them together in the city of Augsburg, to settle the controversy that had divided Europe and to unite back together under the papacy. But those Lutheran princes refused. They presented the emperor with the confession of their faith, in which they state very clearly what their churches believe, teach, and confess. They literally were doing what the psalm verse says: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings, [O Lord,] and shall not be put to shame.” The statement of faith they made that day, the Augsburg Confession, is the primary Lutheran confessional document, and we still stand by it to this day. Thus the second stanza of our hymn:

Confessors, princes, duty bound,
To Augsburg bold they came;
Before the king they stood their ground
And were not put to shame.
Their good confession made that day
Proved not to be in vain;
Gird us their sons, Lord, that we may
Still follow in their train.

So now the rubber meets the road. How does all this apply to us today? Why should we want to follow in the train of Luther and the confessors? It sounds like it could be pretty dangerous. Yes, it can be. Christians are being killed for the faith, in various parts of the world, right now in 2012. In other parts of the world, like America, Christians are being ridiculed and mocked, and our religious liberty has even come under attack by the federal government. Confessing the faith, declaring the truth of God’s Word over against error–this is risky business, because there are powerful people who will hate you for it. It has always been that way, and it always will be. Still, we confess our faith and will not be put to shame. As Paul says in Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This is what we believe, and this is why we speak.

The truth of God’s Word is worth standing up for. It is worth dying for. There is nothing more important in the world than the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For it is the only thing that will save us–or save anyone else–from eternal death and damnation. This is why it is so crucial that we continue to confess the pure faith, over against any errors or threats or persecution. This is about eternal salvation! Souls are at stake. God’s will is that the church declare his truth to one and all. The truth that sin is sin, even when speaking that way is not politically correct to do. People need to know that they are sinners, so that then they will know their need for a righteousness outside of themselves. And so the church must proclaim God’s Law, even when that is unpopular.

And most of all, the church must confess the truth that God has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be that righteousness for us. This is the gospel, this is the good news! Christ Jesus lived and died and rose again, so that we sinners would not perish eternally, but rather be forgiven and live. Jesus did this by paying the big price we could never pay. He suffered and died on the cross to atone for all of our sins–all of your sins–and now you are completely forgiven for Christ’s sake. Trust in him, and not in yourself, for your salvation. Your own goodness cannot save you. No indulgences you buy can save you. Piling up good works cannot save you–they’re not good enough, and there are not enough of them. That simply will not work. But Jesus Christ, faith in him–he can and does save you. Your risen and living Savior will rescue you. He will lead and guide you through all the trials and difficulties of this life and bring you safe and secure into his eternal kingdom.

Therefore, repent of your sins and trust in Christ Jesus your Savior–in him alone. This, my friends, is the message of the Reformation. This is what Luther and the confessors were all about. This is why they were brave and bold to stand and speak. Courage is simply fear that has been baptized. And you are baptized, brothers and sisters. God will turn your fear into courage, whenever you are called upon to confess your faith. And he will do this for all of us together, as church. Yes, the Reformation story is our story, too. For, bottom line, it is the story of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who saves us and calls us and leads us, and we follow him.

With confidence in Christ alone,
Our faith we will confess;
For Jesus’ death made us His own,
And now He lives to bless.
Our Savior leads us heavenward,
Eternal life to gain;
Confessing truth that we have heard,
We follow in His train!

stmatthewbt.org


Comments

“A Lonely Monk, Now Long Ago” (Sermon and hymn for Reformation Day, on Psalm 119:46, by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 6 Comments

  1. Would this all work just as well if you used friar instead of monk. It’s a fine but well known significance. He was an Augustinian Friar.

    He was also very very busy, he was the preacher at St. Mary’s, he was a circuit visitor to several Augustian monasteries in the area, he was both teaching and earning degrees at both Wittenberg and Erfurt. He lived in a friary with many other friars.

    Did he say he was lonely? Did he say this in retropsect and in comparison to his wedded life with Katie and relations and his children? His parents lived a long time, he had brothers and sisters, so likely he also had nephews and nieces. I just don’t see when he could have been lonely. But, it’s a feeling, if he says he was lonely, then he was, but it must have only been for the briefest time.

    I could see him being lonely at the Wartburg and at Feste Coburg, Luther didn’t like being couped up for nothing. Yet he found plenty to do intellectually at both holding places. His usual correspondence was mountainous for the time.

    But, if he says he was lonely, then he was a lonely friar and later Doctor.

    A scholar’d friar, now long ago,
    Nailed truth upon a door . . .

    A busy friar, now long ago,
    Nailed truth upon a door . . .

    I like the first one best, but the second is a very simple change. Luther was not a monk and not lonely, unless he says he was, though I have no idea when he would have found the time to be lonely.

  2. I said “monk,” because that is the more familiar term for most people. There are not many who would or could make the distinction between a friar and a monk. Plus, “monk” works better poetically.

    I said “lonely,” not with regard to personal friendships, but rather in that Luther started out pretty much alone when he posted those theses on the door. He was taking a bold step. That’s the idea.

  3. Aw go on! Everyone knows Friar Tuck. Greyfriars in London. And friars can do things that monks cannot do. Luther could not have been a college scholar nor professor as a monk. Monks must stay in their monastery, they can’t go to college. You wouldn’t want to spread the mistake of Luther being a monk, would you.

    And, he wasn’t very alone because Frederick the Wise had already refused to allow the indulgence sellers on his territories, and there were other nobles just as content to skip the Hollenzollern-Fuggar pay back scheme. And, I find it quite interesting that before the nailing (a rather late and small mention after Luther’s death), Luther sent the official copy of the 95 Thesis to Archbishop Albrecht at Halle, about 30 miles away. Halle was his main residence though he was Archbishop of Magdaburg and Mainz, and administrator of Halberstadt. (Had Luther been a professor at the University of Frankfort an der Oder, he would have indeed been lonely and in a jail cell by morning.)

    He was not technically Luther’s superior, as Frederick had gotten his University and it’s town under the direct supervison of the Pope. Luther sent it to Albrecht because Albrecht was the culprit of the whole mess. In essence saying you cannot sell forgiveness for church sins and pergatory time by taking peoples money in lieu of confession and contrition and absolution. Of course Albrecht very helpfully and immediately sent Luther’s theses on to Rome, because it was a matter of some large amounts of money at stake here.

    I really don’t think that Luther made public the 95 theses in a vacuum. He had student and professor collaborators at Wittenberg, but only Luther with the courage to go first and to put his name on it. So maybe that night, if he slept, the friars might have kept an All Saints vigil, he may have felt a twinge of lonelyness. Remember, that he was still living in a friary full of friars for which he was responsible, and many of the Augustinians all across Germany supported him. I wouldn’t use a feeling term unless we have some historical indication that Luther really did feel lonely at that time. The next day was a holiday, was he preaching?

    aside: You do know that current scholarship finds very little corroboration for the “nailed the thesis to the Castle Church door.” I think Melancthon made some mention of it in an obituary piece. And, the nailing would have happened before Melancthon arrived at Wittenberg, so he would have only heard it second hand at an unknown time from an unknown person or persons. I think it likely that it was posted to the University Church door, but as a follow up to the main copy he had sent to Archbishop Albrecht. Still, it would be maybe not so good an idea to over emphasize something we have so little evidence for. (hear the hammer bang, like) No one should know this history better than the Lutherans and be able to make a supurb hymn of it.

    “Lonely monk, besides being historically wrong, is popular, romanticized history. And are you really going to use an English hymn tune for a reformation song? You must use a new tune or a Lutheran Choral tune. It’s totally wrong to use a sectarian hymn tune for a reformation day hymn for Lutherans to sing. Or do we have to be popularly wrong here too?

    Use Nicolai as your quide for tunes (and how to make new ones), and Gerhardt for the texts. More Wesley hymns is not our job to do.

    What you’ve got is perfectly good and adequate for the Methodist Hymnal. However, the Lutheran standards are very high, please don’t make us any more like the sectarians than we already are.

    It pains me to say a discouraging word, because we need men to do what you are doing. Could I ask only that you use Lutheran targets for your musical arrows. Forgive me, it’s nicely written and the religious/doctrinal message is spot on.

  4. Luther was most definitely “A lone Friar”, but not a lonely friar. Hammer blows is so good, and very possibly correct, I’d keep the strength of it. Great sound.

  5. OK, let’s try it again . . .

    A FRIAR FROM A FRIARY FULL OF FRIARS

    A friar from a friary full of friars, with friends like Fred,
    Sent a document to Archbishop Albrecht at Halle, about 30 miles away, and then may or may not have nailed a copy to a door;
    The popular images of that historical event are hard to shed
    But make for pleasant lore.
    He–the friar, not Archbishop Albrecht at Halle, about 30 miles away–may occasionally have felt a twinge of loneliness,
    We cannot ascertain;
    This whole darn thing is quite a mess–
    See how it racks* my brain!

    * Or, possibly, “wracks”

  6. Phillip Nicolai (writer of hymn texts). I had misidentified him with Johann Crüger (composer of hymn tunes). Johann Crüger and Paul Gerhardt (writer of hymn texts) for a time served together at the Nicolaikirche in Berlin. I knew that Gerhardt worked in Berlin with a composer at the Nicolaikirche, and pulled up Phillip Nicolai (not a composer of tunes) and didn’t check it out. Today, Paul McCain’s excellent entry of today at his blog sight on Lutheran hymn writers, got me back into the issue.

    McCain has a literal translation for “Wie schoen” and it isn’t poetry in English. So your example above is spot on, and a huge problem for hymn translators. How do you keep the poetic and singable qualities from language to language.

    But, you do have a blank slate before you and you are writing in English. Your poetic, though silly, accounting of the facts, does not a hymn make. Got cha. But, you obviously have the talent and calling to put together poetic and singable hymns. You want to tell us that a lone friar, and doctor of the Bible, an academician at a University, suggested that we needed to have an Academic discussion on the church’s primary system (penetence, confession, contrition, penance, and the money price for release of soul’s in purgatory) for making money. He sends his call for an academic discussion to the man, Archbishop Albrecht, the man whose simony has created the huge debt.

    He may not have known how much Albrecht owed the Papacy, nor how this was financed through the huge banking house of the Fuggars in Augsburg, nor the side deals that the papacy had with the Fuggars as well. But his Prince “the Wise” and his mutual facilitator/factotem Georg Spalatin was the go-between with Luther and Spalatin developed a deep friendship with Luther. The new Thrivent Luther movie shows Spalatin being vexed by Luther’s precipitate actions. I think if Luther had wanted to know a fuller, larger picture of the political and monetary factors in the use of Purgatory to make very large sums of money, he could have learned it all from Spalatin and probably any of the other academicians, all of whom were well read and informed men. It is not likely that Luther didn’t know he had lobbed a bomb through Archbishop Albrecht’s transom.

    It’s just that research and pulling the pieces together tells us there was a lot less loneness, and ignorance of political reality surrounding the 95 Theses, than the easy popular histories assume. This whole game is one of plausible deniability. “Who knew.” Not me.

    PS. The call to have an academic debate on Luther’s 95 Theses, never happened.

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